A case of Lassa fever was diagnosed in a man from KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday who has since died.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Disease, the man had an extensive travel history in Nigeria before returning to South Africa.
They said he fell ill after entering South Africa and was hospitalised in a Pietermaritzburg hospital.
Senior communications manager of the National Institute for Communicable Disease, Sinenhlanhla Jimoh, said the diagnosis of Lassa fever was confirmed through laboratory testing conducted at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, a division of the National Health Laboratory Service.
She said the man succumbed to the infection.
“Currently efforts are underway to trace and monitor all possible contacts. No secondary cases of Lassa fever have been confirmed at the time of this report,” said Jimoh.
She said Lassa fever is a viral infection that is endemic to the West African countries and mostly reported from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. Lassa fever is less frequently reported from Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast.
Jimoh said up to 300 000 cases of Lassa fever, with about 5000 deaths are recorded annually in the endemic countries and that currently there is no vaccine for Lassa fever.
“The natural host of this virus is a rodent species called the multimammate rat which is commonly found in homes and other areas where a food source can be found. The rats are persistently infected and shed the virus in their urine and faeces. Humans can come into contact with the virus through direct contact or inhalation of the virus in areas that are infested with the infected rats,” said Jimoh.
She added, “For example contact with contaminated materials, ingestion of contaminated food or inhalation of air that has been contaminated with urine droplets.”
Jimoh said person-to-person transmission of the virus does not occur readily and the virus is not spread through casual contact. She said person-to-person transmission is not common, and mostly associated with the hospital-setting where healthcare workers have contact with the infected blood and bodily fluids of a patient.
“Cases of Lassa fever in travellers returning from endemic countries are reported from time-to-time. In 2007 a case of Lassa fever was diagnosed in South Africa. The case involved a Nigerian citizen with extensive travel history in rural parts of Nigeria before falling ill and he received medical treatment in South Africa. No secondary cases of Lassa fever were reported in this instance. Recently, in February, an imported case of Lassa fever with secondary cases were identified in the United Kingdom,” she said.