Before the new cases, officials said there had been only eight imported Lassa fever infections in Britain since 1980. File Photo by Will Oliver/EPA-EFE
Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Health authorities said they have diagnosed two cases of a viral hemorrhagic fever in Britain, and possibly a third -- marking the first time the illness has been seen in the country in over a decade.
Officials said the cases of Lassa fever involve members of the same family and are linked to recent travel to western Africa, where the illness is endemic. Two of the cases are conclusive and the third hasn't been confirmed yet.
Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness and infection usually occurs through food or household items contaminated with urine or feces from rats who are carrying the virus.
Symptoms of Lassa fever include fever and fatigue -- and in more severe cases, bleeding in the mouth, trouble breathing and low blood pressure. Most people who contract Lassa fever don't develop any symptoms and it's fatal in only about 1% of cases.
The new cases are the first in Britain since 2009.
Officials said one of the infected Britons has recovered.
"Cases of Lassa fever are rare in the U.K. and it does not spread easily between people," Dr. Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the U.K. Health Security Agency, said in a statement Wednesday. "The overall risk to the public is very low."
The agency said that imported cases of Lassa fever are rare -- and that there had been only eight imported cases in Britain over the past 40 years, before the new infections.