Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lassa-More to Worry About

As Ebola continues to rage on in West Africa, another virus is starting to cause issues. More common (read: endemic) to the area, yet less well known, Lassa Fever season is starting to creep up.

Lassa virus is capable of causing hemorrhagic fever, very similar to Ebola. However, it generally presents as a slightly less deadly virus-- but with a 20-30% mortality it still posses a dangerous threat to an area already strapped for healthcare resources. Much like the flu, Lassa Virus outbreaks have a seasonal pattern with peaks usually seen January-March. However, with Ebola cases in these places showing no sign of slowing, this dual outbreak posses a lot of tough problems.

Most pressingly, it is very hard to accurately differentiate between these two diseases. A Lassa fever patient and an Ebola patient could walk up to the same doctor and, without laboratory diagnosis, it could be nearly impossible to distinguish between the 2 viral infections. This poses a logistical issue: Lassa fever patients could go to an Ebola clinic thinking they have Ebola, and then end up infected not only with Lassa, but also with Ebola. Similarly, Lassa could spread ot Ebola patients. Either way, this could significantly effect survival rates if healthcare worked have to content with dual infections.

One piece of somewhat good news: Lassa can be semi-treated with the anti-viral drug Ribavarin, whereas Ebola does not seem to respond significantly to it. However, as with most of the current health infrastructure in west Africa, the drug is in short supply.

Experts say the best way to combat this is get proper laboratory identification capabilities to clinics.

--Lauren Sweet


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