Missionary Infected with Lassa Fever Being Treated in the U.S.

Missionary Infected with Lassa Fever Being Treated in the U.S.

Emory University Hospital in Atlanta is currently treating an American health care worker who was diagnosed with Lassa fever, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said on Sunday.

Emory is the same hospital which treated 4 Ebola patients in 2014.

The patient, a physician’s assistant who had been working with a missionary organization in Tongo, was transported from West Africa to Atlanta at the request of the U.S. State Department after doctors suspected she had the virus. [1]

The patient was transported to the U.S. in a specialized medevac aircraft equipped with an Aeromedical Biological Containment System. [2]

Emory spokeswoman Holly Korschun said:

“We are continuing to treat the patient for symptoms of febrile illness.”

Dr. Colleen Kraft, who works in the hospital’s serious communicable diseases unit, told WSB-TV that hospital staff have strict protocols to follow to guard themselves and the public against the spread of the illness.

According to the CDC, Lassa fever is an acute viral illness found in West Africa that is transmitted by rodents and acquired by humans who touch contaminated items such as food, or through open cuts and wounds. Transmission of the virus typically occurs through ingestion or inhalation. Lassa can also be transmitted person-to-person via blood, tissue, secretions, or excretions.

Lassa fever is very similar to Ebola, but far less deadly. Nearly 80% of people who contract the virus never experience symptoms. The most common complication associated with the infection is hearing loss.

Signs and symptoms of the potentially deadly virus usually appear 1-3 weeks after exposure, and mild infections include:

  • fever
  • general malaise
  • weakness
  • headache

More serious symptoms occur in about 20% of patients, including:

  • hemorrhaging of the eyes, nose, and gums
  •  respiratory distress
  • repeated vomiting
  • facial swelling
  • pain in the chest, back, and abdomen
  • shock
  • neurological problems (hearing loss, tremors, encephalitis)
  • fetal deaths
16.01.14 - Lassa Fever Infographic
Source: The Huffington Post

Lassa is generally treated with the antiviral drug Ribavirin. [3]

Only 6 cases of Lassa have ever been recorded in the United States. The most recent case was in May 2015, when a man who had returned from traveling to Liberia died from the infection in a New Jersey hospital.


[1] CNN

[2] UPI

[3] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Huffington Post