NJ man dies of rare Lassa fever after trip to West Africa

A New Jersey man who recently returned from West Africa has died from Lassa fever.

Health officials say the risk to the public is extremely low.


Lassa fever is extremely rare in this country and is not spread through the air or casual contact, said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd.

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“This is the sixth case that we are aware of in the United States since 1969, but there has never been in any of those cases a transmission from one person to another,” she said Tuesday, a day after the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the patient’s death. 

Officials are trying to identify family members and health care workers who came into contact with the patient on his return from Liberia.

“In an abundance of caution, public health officials as well as health care providers are doing everything possible to identify any individual who may have come into contact with this particular case in order to monitor them for symptoms,” O’Dowd said.

They will be monitored for 21 days.

Officials also are trying to reach anyone who was on the flight the patient took from West Africa.

“It would only be those individuals that were very sitting very close to the person because it is very difficult to transit this disease,” she said. “It has to be very specific contact, unprotected contact with bodily fluids.”

She stressed that Lassa fever differs from Ebola.

“Lassa fever generally is far less likely to be fatal than Ebola and is less likely to be spread from person to person,” O’Dowd said. “Lassa fever when untreated has an approximately one percent fatality rate whereas Ebola without treatment has a 70 percent fatality rate.”

Officials have not made public the name of the victim or which two New Jersey hospitals where he spent time.

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