A PATIENT has died in a UK hospital while being treated for Lassa fever, an acute viral haemorrhagic illness endemic in West Africa.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said last week that two persons who travelled recently to the region had been diagnosed with the disease, while a third case was being investigated.
It was the third person who died at Luton and Dunstable Hospital run by Bedfordshire Hospitals National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust.
A spokesman for the Trust said: ‘We confirm the sad death of a patient at our Trust, who had confirmed Lassa fever.
‘We send our deepest condolences to their family at this difficult time.
‘We will continue to support the patient’s family and our staff and are working closely with colleagues from UKHSA to undertake a robust contact tracing exercise.’
Two of the cases were within the same family in the East of England who had returned from West Africa, according to the UKHSA, which added that one had recovered, while the other was receiving specialist care at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
Dr Sir Michael Jacobs, consultant in infectious diseases at the Trust, said last week: ‘The Royal Free Hospital is a specialist centre for treating patients with viral haemorrhagic fevers, including Lassa fever.
‘Our secure unit is run by a highly-trained and experienced team of doctors, nurses, therapists and laboratory staff and is designed to ensure our staff can safely treat patients with these kinds of infections.’
The identities of the patients, including the one who died, and the country to which they travelled have not been disclosed.
Before the current occurrence, eight cases of Lassa fever had been identified in the UK since 1980, with the last two occurring in 2009.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at the UKHSA, said: ‘Cases of Lassa fever are rare in the UK and it does not spread easily between people.
‘The overall risk to the public is very low.
‘We are contacting the individuals who have had close contact with the cases prior to confirmation of their infection, to provide appropriate assessment, support and advice.’
She added: ‘UKHSA and the NHS have well established and robust infection control procedures for dealing with cases of imported infectious disease and these will be reinforced.’
The UKHSA said that people usually became infected with the Lassa virus through exposure to food or household items contaminated by infected rats.
The virus can also be spread through infected bodily fluids, according to the UKHSA, which added that most people with Lassa fever would make a full recovery.
Imported cases rarely occur elsewhere in the world, according to the UKHSA, which pointed out that such cases were almost exclusively in people who worked in endemic areas in high-risk occupations, such as medical or other aid workers.