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An overview of Lassa fever

Lassa fever is a virus that causes hemorrhaging and fevers, and New Mexico residents may want to be aware that Mastomys rodents transmit it through their droppings and urine. In West Africa, it affects as many as 500,000 people every year, resulting in around 5,000 deaths. In some parts of Liberia and Sierra Leone, 10 to 16 percent of annual hospitalized patients have Lassa fever.

Transmission of Lassa fever can occur by inhaling or eating contaminated dust or food. To avoid becoming infected, individuals in endemic areas should keep their food in containers that rodents cannot access and keep their living areas clean while avoiding making dirt airborne.

The virus shows no symptoms in about 80 percent of patients. The other 20 percent begin to show symptoms in one to three weeks after infection. These symptoms include aches, fever, headaches and vomiting. When Lassa fever becomes severe, it causes hemorrhaging and shock.

The nonspecific symptoms during the early stages of the virus are similar to malaria and typhoid, making a misdiagnosis common. Special blood tests are not readily available to detect the disease. When it is detected early, however, medical professionals use a combination of antibiotics, the antiviral ribavirin, blood pressure and oxygenation support, and electrolyte and fluid replacement for treatment.

Lassa fever had not been transmitted between people outside of Africa until March 9, when a German mortician was diagnosed with a serious case of the virus. He became infected while attending the body of a medical missionary who had been misdiagnosed with malaria.

Although the proper diagnosis of illnesses and disease is important to appropriately treat patients, it is also vital when the illnesses and diseases can be spread to others. People who are misdiagnosed and who are then harmed as a result may want to discuss their options with a medical malpractice attorney.

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