Ebola intensifies the struggle to cope with Lassa fever

Lassa is as easily transmitted as Ebola and its symptoms are almost identical

The peak season for Lassa fever in West Africa is about to begin. The viral haemorrhagic fever has been largely forgotten in the Ebola crisis, and health workers are warning that they may not have the resources to deal with the disease if cases increase.

At first sight the symptoms of Lassa are identical to Ebola. There can be bleeding, vomiting and fever. But whereas Ebola is a new outbreak, Lassa is a constant presence. Every year it infects from 300,000 to 500,000 people, killing up to 20,000. All of the countries worst hit by Ebola are home to Lassa fever. On Friday, Dr Geraldine O’Hara from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told the BBC that one of her colleagues had died of Lassa despite all efforts to save her. Nigeria may also be seeing its first outbreak of the season. Only weeks after successfully containing Ebola, Nigerian media have reported an outbreak of Lassa in Oyo State.

Lassa fever is transmitted by rats and can also spread from person-to-person

There is one main difference between an outbreak of Ebola and Lassa. A Lassa outbreak is caused by rats. The rodents carry the disease into homes and food stores, especially in the dry season running from November to April. “We have had literally dozens of cases of Lassa fever already in the eastern part of Sierra Leone,” said Prof Robert Garry of Tulane University which has a decade of Lassa research in West Africa. Once infected, Lassa can spread from person-to-person. Not everyone who catches it becomes seriously ill, but fatality rates have been known to be as high as 70%. It is less easily transmitted than Ebola, but nonetheless patients must still be treated in complete isolation. Abandoned hospital The containment of Lassa fever was a major focus in West Africa until Ebola arrived. It was in a Lassa laboratory that Sierra Leone first Ebola case was identified. Source: BBCNews Read more.