At least two people who died at a hospital in Tanguieta, Atakora Department in northern Benin, bordering Nigeria have been confirmed to have died from the hemorrhagic fever, Lassa fever, according to an RFI report Friday (computer translated). Lassa fever virus is endemic in Nigeria and is now a serious problem in 23 of the 36 states of that country.

Benin map/CIA
Benin map/CIA

Five staff at the hospital; however, only two died from the sometimes deadly Lassa, which is an Arenavirus, different from that of Marburg and Ebola, which are filoviruses .

No new cases have been reported, but vigilance is needed, as explained Dorothee Kinde Gazard, Minister of Health: “We have identified and continue to identify subjects contacts to follow 21 days. And I would like to appeal to all the Beninese for they occur in health centers at the onset of influenza-like illness that begin with fever.

The WHO’s representative in the country, Youssouf Gamatie, was quoted as saying in the Benin media: “It’s lucky that we have detected it in the initial phase.”

According to the WHO, Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, a member of the arenavirus family of viruses. It is transmitted to humans from contacts with food or household items contaminated with rodent excreta. The disease is endemic in the rodent population in parts of West Africa. Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in the hospital environment in the absence of adequate infection control measures. Diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential.

The Centers fro Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says Lassa fever is endemic in parts of west Africa including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria; however, other neighboring countries are also at risk, as the animal vector for Lassa virus, the “multimammate rat” (Mastomys natalensis) is distributed throughout the region. In 2009, the first case from Mali was reported in a traveler living in southern Mali; Ghana reported its first cases in late 2011. Isolated cases have also been reported in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso and there is serologic evidence of Lassa virus infection in Togo and Benin.

The number of Lassa virus infections per year in west Africa is estimated at 100,000 to 300,000, with approximately 5,000 deaths.

Related: Nigeria’s Oyo State reports Lassa fever outbreak, a week after country being declared Ebola-free

Only 1% of all Lassa virus infections result in death. However, approximately 15%-20% of patients hospitalized for Lassa fever die from the illness.  Lassa fever is also associated with occasional epidemics, during which the case-fatality rate can reach 50% in hospitalized patients.

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