Person who traveled from Liberia to JFK died of Lassa fever

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

NEW YORK -- The CDC and the New Jersey Department of Health have confirmed a death from Lassa fever that was diagnosed earlier Monday in a person returning to the United States from Liberia.

The patient, 55, was admitted to a hospital on May 21 with fever and sore throat and was placed in isolation. Blood samples submitted to CDC tested positive for Lassa fever. The patient's condition continued to decline, and he passed away Monday evening.

Lassa fever is a viral disease that is common in West Africa, but rarely seen in the United States. It is not spread through casual contact or through the air. According to the CDC, there has never been person-to-person transmission of Lassa fever documented in the U.S.

In rare cases, it can be transmitted through direct contact with a sick person's blood or bodily fluids, or through sexual contact.

Despite the unlikelihood of person to person transmission, the Department of Health is working with hospital officials to identify all close contacts including health care workers, family members and anyone who may have come in contact with the patient out of an abundance of caution. They will be monitored for symptoms.

There have been five other cases of Lassa fever in travelers returning to the U.S. since 1969, including in a New Jersey patient who died in 2004 and a Minnesota case last year.

Although Lassa fever can produce hemorrhagic symptoms in infected persons, the disease is not related to Ebola, which is responsible for the current outbreak in West Africa. The patient tested negative for Ebola.

In West Africa, Lassa virus is carried by rodents and transmitted to humans through contact with urine or droppings of infected rodents. 100,000 to 300,000 cases of Lassa fever, and 5,000 deaths, occur in West Africa each year.

"Given what we know about how Lassa virus spreads to people, we think the risk to the public is extremely low," State Epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan said.

For additional information about Lassa fever, see the CDC website.