Lassa Fever: What we know about the rat-borne disease found in the UK?

Lassa Fever: What we know about the rat-borne disease found in the UK?
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Two cases of the rare rat-borne fever have been identified in England – with another "probable" case being investigated.

Prior to the newly discovered cases of Lassa fever, there had only been eight reported in the UK since 1980. Two of which were found in 2009.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) revealed the recent cases are within the same family in the east of England and are linked to recent travel to West Africa.

One of the cases has recovered while the other is being treated at the Royal Free London Foundation Trust. The third possible case is currently being treated at Bedfordshire Hospitals Foundation Trust.

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Most people with Lassa fever will make a full recovery, however severe illness can occur in some individuals.

Here's what we know so far:

What is Lassa fever?

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus.

People generally become infected through exposure to food or household items contaminated with urine or faeces of infected rats. It's prominent in a number of west African countries where the disease is endemic.

The virus can spread through infected bodily fluids.

What have doctors said?

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at 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.

“The 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.”

Dr Sir Michael Jacobs, consultant in infectious diseases at the Royal Free London, said: “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 kind of infections.”

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