A patient has died in Bedfordshire after being found to have Lassa fever, the UK Health Security Agency has said, as the confirmed case brought the total number of people diagnosed with the disease in England to three.
The death comes less than 48 hours after it emerged that two people had been diagnosed with the potentially deadly infectious disease and a third “probable” case was under investigation. In an update on Friday, the UKHSA said the “probable” case had now been confirmed and had died.
It is the first time cases of the potentially deadly infectious disease, caused by the Lassa virus, have been identified in the UK for more than a decade.
The UKHSA said: “The UK Health Security Agency can confirm that the probable case of Lassa fever under investigation is now confirmed, bringing the total number of cases to three. Sadly, this individual has died.
“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 risk to the general public remains very low.”
A Bedfordshire hospitals NHS foundation trust spokesperson 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 the UK Health Security Agency to undertake a robust contact-tracing exercise.”
One of the two previously confirmed cases has recovered, while UKHSA said on Wednesday that the second patient was receiving specialist care at the Royal Free London NHS foundation trust. The three cases were within the same family in the east of England and were linked to recent travel to west Africa.
Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness. People usually become infected with Lassa virus through exposure to food or household items contaminated with urine or faeces of infected rats. The virus can also be spread through body fluids.
People living in areas of west Africa with high populations of rodents where the disease is endemic are most at risk of Lassa fever. Imported cases rarely occur elsewhere in the world. Such cases are almost exclusively in people who work in endemic areas in high-risk occupations such as medicine, or other aid workers.
Most people with Lassa fever will make a full recovery. However, severe illness can occur in some individuals. Symptoms are usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness and malaise.
After a few days there may be headaches, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, a cough and abdominal pain , according to the World Health Organization. In severe cases there may be facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure.
Deafness occurs in 25% of recovered patients. In half of these cases, hearing returns partially after one to three months. Before these cases, there had been just eight cases of Lassa fever imported to the UK since 1980. The last two cases occurred in 2009. There was no evidence of onward transmission from any of these cases.