Sep 7, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – A case of Lassa fever in a New Jersey man who fell ill after visiting Liberia has caused federal health officials to issue a health advisory about the viral disease, rarely seen in the United States.
The 38-year-old man died in a New Jersey hospital Aug 28, 4 days after returning from a 5-month visit to Liberia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its Sep 2 advisory. The agency said the man's case was the first known travel-related Lassa fever case in the United States since 1989.
The man lived in Mercer County and was hospitalized at Capital Health System at Mercer, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services said in a news release.
Lassa fever is caused by an arenavirus that is found in much of West Africa, the CDC said. The illness has an incubation period of about 10 days, and signs and symptoms include fever, muscle aches, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, and chest and abdominal pain. About 80% of cases are mild or asymptomatic, but shock, hemorrhage, seizures, and death may occur in severe cases. About 100,000 to 300,000 cases with 5,000 deaths occur in West Africa each year, according to the CDC.
The agency said people who traveled on the same flights as the Lassa fever victim, and others who might have been exposed to the man, should monitor their health for 21 days (through Sep 18 for fellow travelers). The man flew on Aug 23 from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to London on Astreus flight 72; he then traveled on Continental flight 29 from London Gatwick Airport to Newark, N.J., on Aug 24.
Anyone who might have had contact with the man and experiences a fever of 101ºF or higher should call their state or local health department, the CDC said.
Officials said people contract Lassa fever mainly through contact with the urine or droppings of infected rodents. Person-to-person spread of the virus is uncommon and occurs through direct contact with blood and other body fluids of an infected person, according to the CDC. "Although several cases of imported Lassa fever have been reported previously, secondary transmission to other persons has been rare among both travelers and healthcare workers in non-endemic areas," the agency said.
The CDC said it is working with New Jersey health officials and other public health agencies to identify people who might have been exposed to the patient. New Jersey residents who think they may be at risk should call the state health department at 1-866-234-0964; residents of other states should contact their state or local health department.
CDC general information on Lassa fever