Tulane Researcher Sees No Epidemic Threat From Lassa Fever In West Africa

May 27, 2015

A Tulane University researcher recently back from Sierra Leone in West Africa says health care workers treating patients with Lassa Fever are taking precautions similar to those used in the Ebola outbreak. But the risk of a Lassa epidemic is much less than the dangers posed by Ebola cases in that region.

A man in New Jersey died this week from Lassa Fever that authorities say he contracted in West Africa.

Dr. John Schieffelin of Tulane University is a clinical expert in Lassa Fever. Tulane has for over the past decade been part of a consortium of  researchers working in Sierra Leone. Schieffelin says Lassa is spread by rats and is much more difficult to contract than Ebola.

“We do remain very concerned. And the nurses and doctors that we work with in Sierra Leone do wear the same level of the personal protective equipment that people have been using during the Ebola outbreak. But that’s because there is a risk of transmission within hospitals. So we need to make sure that the staff caring for these patients is very well protected.”  

Schieffelin says it’s difficult to know the number of Lassa Fever cases or the mortality rate because the data is about 30 years old.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say more than 11,000 people died in the Ebola outbreak that began last year. Several regions have been cleared of that disease.