How a deadly disease similar to Ebola was introduced into the United States

Anita Durairaj

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The disease is called Lassa Fever and it is similar to Ebola in that they are both a result of viruses causing viral haemorrhagic fevers.

Both Lassa Fever and Ebola originated in Africa. While the diseases may be similar, Lassa Fever is not as dangerous as Ebola.

Lassa Fever can affect people differently. Some people are affected mildly while others may tend to suffer more serious symptoms.

The symptoms are fever, tiredness, weakness, and headache which is quite similar to getting the flu. However, if Lassa Fever becomes serious, the symptoms become more extreme with bleeding gums, breathing problems, low blood pressure, vomiting, pain and finally death.

There is currently no cure for Lassa Virus. It is a matter of prevention.

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How Lassa Fever was introduced to the US and its risks

It all began in the town of Lassa in Nigeria, West Africa. Symptoms of Lassa Fever were noticed as far back as the 1950s in Nigeria but at the time no one had identified the virus. It wasn't until the late 1960s that the virus was finally identified.

The discovery of the Lassa Virus began with American missionaries who were stationed in the town of Lassa in Nigeria. A few missionaries were infected with the virus and flown to the United States for treatment. Samples were taken from the missionaries and researched. The identification of the virus as the Lassa Virus was done at the Yale Arbovirus Research Unit in New Haven, Connecticut.

Currently, there is no risk of a Lassa Fever epidemic in the US. The virus is geographically restricted to the countries of Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia in Africa. The virus is found in the Mastomys rat which is found in those regions. People are infected when they come into contact with the rat in their homes and farms.

Lassa Fever is very rare in the US. If it does occur, it is only because the patient may have travelled to Africa. The most recent US case was in 2015 when a traveler died from Lassa Fever after travelling from Liberia to the US. To date, there have only been 6 cases of Lassa Fever from travellers returning to the US from abroad.

Sources: CDC, Public Health England, Healio Infectious Disease

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.

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