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CDC steps in after New Jersey man dies of rare viral disease Lassa

By Amy R. Connolly
CDC steps in after New Jersey man dies of rare viral disease Lassa
The Centers for Disease Control, along with New Jersey disease and health experts, are working to track people who came in contact with a man who died of Lassa. Image courtesy of C.S. Goldsmith and M. Bowen/CDC

WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- The Centers for Disease Control, along with New Jersey disease and health experts, are working to track people who came into contact with a man who died of Lassa, a hemorrhagic fever rarely seen in the United States.

The 55-year-old man, who had recently returned to New Jersey from Liberia, died in a New Jersey hospital Monday after being diagnosed with the rare viral disease. Authorities said he traveled from Liberia to Morocco to JFK International Airport on May 17. The next day, the man, who was not identified, went to a New Jersey hospital with a sore throat, fever and exhaustion. According to the hospital, he was asked about his travel history and did not report traveling to west Africa. He was sent home, but returned to the hospital on Thursday when his symptoms worsened. He was moved to a treatment center for viral hemorrhagic fevers. His test came back positive for Lassa, the CDC said.

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"The patient did not have a fever on departure from Liberia, did not report symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, or bleeding during the flight, and his temperature was taken on arrival in the U.S. and he did not have a fever at that time," the CDC said in a written statement.

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Lassa fever is primarily seen in west Africa. Disease transmission occurs primarily through rodent droppings and urine, but it can also be passed through person-to-person contact after exposure to the virus in the blood, tissue, secretions or excretions of a Lassa virus-infected patients. There has never been a documented person-to-person transfer of Lassa fever in the United States.

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

State and federal disease control experts are reviewing airline manifests for the contact information for passengers and crew who may have come into close contact with the man.

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