American with suspected Lassa fever coming to U.S. Ebola unit for treatment

A vendor sells bags of rat poison in northern Nigeria's largest city of Kano. Lassa fever, a virus spread by rats with symptoms similar to Ebola, is endemic to Sierra Leone, Liberia, New Guinea and Nigeria. An American physician assistant suspected of having the virus is being transported from West Africa to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

Story highlights

  • Suspected Lassa fever patient to be transferred to United States this weekend
  • There have only been six previous U.S. cases of Lassa fever
  • Patient will be treated at Emory University, where 4 U.S. Ebola patients were treated in 2014

(CNN)An American physician assistant suspected of having Lassa fever is being transported from West Africa to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment, the hospital said Friday.

"The diagnosis has not yet been confirmed," a statement from Emory said. They will be working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Public Health to diagnose the patient. A source familiar with the situation tells CNN the individual is a high-risk patient. Lab results could come as soon as this weekend, depending on when the patient arrives.
The individual, who has been working with an unnamed missionary organization in the West African nation of Togo, will be treated at Emory's Serious Communicable Diseases Unit, where four U.S. patients were treated for Ebola in 2014. Emory said the U.S. State Department asked them to receive the patient, who will arrive via medical transport sometime this weekend.
    Lassa fever is a virus spread by rats that is endemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia, New Guinea and Nigeria, according to the CDC.
    Symptoms can be similar to Ebola, including hemorrhagic fever and bleeding, although 80% of patients experience mild symptoms and can even go undiagnosed, according to the World Health Organization.
    Lassa fever is deadly in about 1% of all individuals. Among those who require hospitalization for their illness, 15% do not survive.
    Unlike Ebola, Lassa fever is not spread from person to person. People become infected from contact with urine or feces of an infected rat, which sometimes happens from food. Breathing particles in the air from infected rat feces can also lead to infection. Coming into direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person can also lead to infection, although this is rare.
    Symptoms begin one to three weeks after a person is infected.
    The virus can be treated with the antiviral drug Ribavirin.
    Lassa fever infects an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 people in West Africa each year and is responsible for 5,000 deaths.
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    There have only been six cases of Lassa fever in the United States, according to the CDC. All were infected while traveling to countries where the virus was spreading.
    The most recent case was in May 2015, when a man who had returned from traveling to Liberia died from Lassa fever in a New Jersey hospital.