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Lassa fever: a new, contagious, and deadly epidemic; Britain records first death

“لاسا” وباء جديد معد وقاتل.. وبريطانيا تسجل أول وفاة


A person has died after three cases of Lassa fever were confirmed in the UK – with two of those infections found in people who had returned from West Africa.

As the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) reassures people “the risk to the general public remains very low”, we take a look at the virus, its symptoms, and how it is transmitted.

What is Lassa fever?
Lassa fever is an acute viral illness that originates in rats.

It is endemic in parts of west Africa including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.

The illness was discovered in 1969 and is named after the town in Nigeria where the first cases were reported.

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 infections of Lassa fever occur every year, with approximately 5,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.

However, the CDC stresses that there is no standardised recording of Lassa fever and so it is not possible to know exactly how many cases there are.

In some areas of Sierra Leone and Liberia, it is known that 10 to 16% of people admitted to hospitals every year have Lassa fever.

How common is the virus in the UK?
Prior to the three cases found in February 2022, there have been eight cases of Lassa fever imported to the UK since 1980.

The last two cases happened in 2009.

How is the disease transmitted to humans?
The reservoir, or host, of the Lassa virus is a rodent known as the “multimammate rat”.

The rodents are common in west, central, and east Africa, and often live where human food is stored.

Lassa fever is therefore usually caught from exposure to food or household items contaminated with the urine or faeces of infected rats.

Human beings can transmit the virus to each other through contact with infected bodily fluids.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Lassa fever typically emerge between one and three weeks after the patient comes into contact with the virus.

Lassa fever symptoms are mild and undiagnosed in around 80% of cases.

Mild symptoms include slight fever, a general feeling of weakness, and headache.

In 20% of infected individuals, however, disease may progress to more serious symptoms including bleeding from the gums, eyes or nose.

They may also experience respiratory distress, repeated vomiting, facial swelling, pain in the chest, back, and abdomen.

Neurological problems have also been described, including hearing loss.

Death may occur within two weeks due to multi-organ failure.

What is the risk of exposure?
Individuals at the greatest risk of Lassa virus infection are those who live in or visit endemic regions, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria and have exposure to the multimammate rat.

Hospital staff are not at great risk of infection as long as protective measures and proper sterilisation methods are used.

What treatments are there for the virus?
Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, has been used to successfully treat Lassa fever in patients.

It has been shown to be most effective when given early in the course of the illness.

How can transmission be avoided?

The best way to prevent transmission is for people to avoid contact with multimammate rat and their urine or faeces.

However the prevalence of these animals in west Africa make this difficult to achieve in the region.

Healthcare workers who treat people with Lassa fever wear protective clothing to avoid catching the virus.

سكاي نيوز

أعلنت السلطات الصحية في بريطانيا، الجمعة، حالة وفاة من جراء مرض يعرف بـ”حمى لاسا”، فيما سجلت البلاد ثالث إصابة مؤكدة.

وذكرت وكالة الأمن الصحي البريطانية، أن الوفاة سجلت في منطقة بيدفور شاير، بينما رصدت السلطات حالتي إصابة بفيروس شبيه بإيبولا، شرقي إنجلترا، الأربعاء.

وبحسب شبكة “سكاي نيوز” البريطانية، فإن المصابين الثلاثة بـ”حمى لاسا” ينتمون إلى عائلة واحدة عادت، مؤخرا، من غرب إفريقيا.

وتعد حمى “لاسا”، وهي اضطراب صحي ذو منشأ حيواني، مرضا متوطنا في بعض مناطق غرب إفريقيا.

وأوضحت الهيئة الصحية البريطانية، أنها تجري اتصالات مع الأفراد الذين خالطوا المصابين، من أجل تقييم وضعهم الصحي وإسداء نصائح لهم.

وتابع المصدر، أن الخطر الذي يمكن أن يحدق بالصحة العامة في بريطانيا من جراء هذه الإصابات يبقى في حدود منخفضة جدا.

وقال متحدث باسم المستشفى الذي سجل الوفاة في بيدفورد شاير “نؤكد وفاة الشخص الذي كان مصابا بحمى لاسا، ونتقدم بتعازينا للعائلة في هذا الوقت العصيب”.

وتنجم حمى “لاسا” عن الإصابة بفيروس “لاسا”، فيما لم تسجل بريطانيا سوى ثماني حالات بالمرض منذ 1980.

وكانت آخر إصابة مسجلة بحمى “لاسا” في بريطانيا، في عام 2009، ويقول الخبراء إن المرض ينتقل عند التعرض لطعام أو أدوات منزلية تحمل عدوى من فضلات وبول الفئران المصابة بالفيروس، كما ينتقل أيضا عبر سوائل الجسم المصاب.

ويؤدي هذا المرض إلى وفاة 5 آلاف شخص في العام، وتدرجه المراكز الأميركية لمراقبة الأمراض والوقاية منها ضمن الأمراض المتوطنة في مناطق من غرب إفريقيا.

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