Man severely ill with Lassa fever being treated at University Hospital Frankfurt | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 17.03.2016
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Man severely ill with Lassa fever being treated at University Hospital Frankfurt

An undertaker in Germany has become the first person to contract Lassa fever outside of Africa. The man had contact with another patient, who died of Lassa fever in February in Cologne.

A blood test has confirmed the first new case of Lassa fever, an acute viral hemorrhagic illness, in Germany. The patient from Alzey in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate works at an undertaker's. He is being monitored on a special isolation ward at the University Hospital Frankfurt.

His doctors say his condition is serious.

"The patient shows signs of a severe viral condition," says chief resident doctor Timo Wolf.

But the specialist says he is optimistic the patient will recover as his condition was diagnosed early. The hospital says the patient is being treated with the drug Ribavirin, which inhibits the spread of viruses in the body.

Timo Wolf of University Hospital Frankfurt

Timo Wolf of University Hospital Frankfurt

Members of the patient's family have also been admitted to hospital for monitoring. However, they have presented no symptoms.

Lassa fever in Germany

This is the first time a person has become infected with Lassa fever outside of Africa, says René Gottschalk, who heads Frankfurt's public health department.

Before these latest developments, there had been five cases of Lassa fever in Germany. But in each case the patient was already infected when they brought it to the country. Three of the five patients recovered.

University Hospital Frankfurt successfully treated its first Lassa patient in 2006.

Gottschalk says it is unclear how the newest patient contracted the virus. But it is known he had had contact with the body of a Lassa patient who died earlier this year.

The US citizen, who had worked as a nurse in Togo, died on February 26 in Cologne. The man from Alzey was diagnosed with a Lassa virus infection on March 9.

The Lassa virus seen through an electron microscope

The Lassa virus seen through an electron microscope

As with Ebola and Dengue, Lassa fever is a hemorrhagic illness. Symptoms include fever and severe inner bleeding. The incubation period is between one and three weeks. The pathogen can cause fever, head and muscle ache, and in later stages, bruising of the skin, diarrhea and vomiting.

The most common route of transmission to humans is from rats or mice. It can be easily transmitted from human to human via a droplet infection, open wounds, or through an exchange of bodily fluids.

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 people contract Lassa fever in Africa every year. About 98 percent of patients who receive hospital treatment survive.


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