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The world is still grappling with the COVID-19 virus and its various mutations. It has been more than two years now and the end is nowhere in sight. In this scenario, it is frightening indeed that a deadly haemorrhagic fever has been detected in the UK. Health officials in the country has gone on record to say that this disease has 'pandemic potential'. Known as Lassa fever, this is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness, which is quite similar to Ebola. Infection spreads through exposure to contaminated food or other items. Contamination occurs via urine or faeces of infected rats.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said that this fever is seen in the country after more than a decade and it has come from outside the country. The country has, so far, encountered eight cases of Lassa fever imported to the UK since 1980 and the last two cases were seen in 2009. UKHSA has announced that there are currently two confirmed cases and one suspect in the country. All three patients are from the same family and had returned from West Africa, where this disease is endemic. West Africa sees around 100,000 cases of the disease every year with an average of 5,000 deaths. Almost 80 per cent of the cases are asymptomatic.
Health officials have appealed for calm and said that there is no need to panic as it is still not clear if there are more cases of Lassa fever in the UK at present. Chief Medical Officer of UKHSA, Susan Hopkins, has said that "Cases of Lassa fever are rare in the UK and it does not spread easily between people. The overall risk to the public is very low." She has also said that officials are now trying to carry out contact tracing of the infected individuals to provide appropriate assessment, support and advice.
Here are a few things that you need to know about this acute viral haemorrhagic illness.
There is no effective treatment or vaccine for this disease as yet. However, two vaccines entered phase one trials in 2019 and another started human trials in 2021. Lassa fever has been classed as having 'pandemic potential' and is on the WHO's list of priority pathogens alongside viruses such as Ebola and dengue. UK health officials have said that Lassa fever is a rare, but serious infection. And, its chances spreading like the COVID-19 virus in the UK is 'unlikely'.
(With inputs from Agencies)