Lassa fever in Liberia

As of May 20, of a suspected 38 cases of Lassa fever, 15 people are dead. The good news is that the WHO has stated the risk of widespread transmission is low, and Liberia has not been placed under any travel advisory. Recommendations have been made for Liberia and other west African nations to step up their surveillance for Lassa. This is easier said than done, as Lassa presents via a number of different symptoms and is difficult to distinguish from ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers as well as malaria. The two diseases are so close that the initial ebola outbreaks in Liberia several years ago were originally diagnosed as Lassa fever. Liberia has an extensive history with the virus, and it is quite prevalent throughout West Africa. Nearly 300,000 people each year are diagnosed with Lassa and up to 5,000 people die from the disease.

Lassa is less severe than ebola, but can be fatal. Of the patients with Lassa who end up hospitalized, between 15-20% die. Pregnant women are considered especially at risk for serious forms of the illness, due to the virus’ affinity for placenta and vascular tissues. Transmission of Lassa occurs via rodent urine and feces. 80% of infected individuals are asymptomatic, but the remaining 20% experience a number of nonspecific symptoms. Fever, facial swelling, fatigue and conjunctivitis are common indicators.

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