Lassa Fever: An Old World Arenavirus
A brief summary of lassa fever, its history, pathology and effects on the indigenous populations. Also, lassa fever in the context of newly emerging diseases.
On January 12, 1969, a missionary nun, working in the small town of Lassa, Nigeria, began complaining of a backache. Thinking she had merely pulled a muscle, she ignored the pain and went on about her business. After a week, however, the nurse had a throat so sore and so filled with ulcers, she couldn't swallow. Thinking she was suffering from one of the many bacterial diseases endemic to the area, her sisters administered every antibiotic they had on store in the town's Church of the Brethren Mission Hospital. But, the antibiotics did nothing. Her fever escalated, she was severely dehydrated and blotches, hemorrhages, were appearing on her skin. She began to swell and became delirious, so they shipped her to a larger hospital, where one day later she went into convulsions and died. After a nurse who was tending to the sister came down with the same symptoms and died, the doctors in the hospital began to suspect it was a disease heretofore unseen by any of them. Autopsy on the nurse showed significant damage to every organ in the body, the heart was stopped up, with loads of blood cells and platelets piled well into the arteries and veins. Fluids and blood filled the lungs. Dead cells and lipids clogged the liver and spleen. The kidneys were so congested with dead cells and free proteins they had ceased to function. Dissecting the lymph nodes, they discovered that they were completely empty; every white blood cell had been utilized in a futile attempt to stave off the unknown microbe. A few days later, a prominent western viral researcher contracted the unknown disease and the hunt for the microbe that caused lassa fever, began in earnest.(Garrett, 1994)
Lassa fever is a virus belonging to the family Arenaviridae. Genus Arenavirus,...
Cited: Garrett, Laurie, 1994, "Into the Woods", The Coming Plague; Newly Emerging
Diseases in a World out of Balance, 71 -99.
Southern, Peter, 1996, "Arenaviridae: The Viruses and Their Replication", Fields
Virology, 1505 -1520.
Sanford, Jay, "Lassa Fever", The Merck Manual, 218 -219.
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