Western Cape premier Alan Winde said he was definitely not going to hit the panic button on Lassa fever as it was seemingly “not very contagious”.
Winde’s remarks comes after South Africa’s first case of Lassa fever since 2007 was this week diagnosed in a man from KwaZulu-Natal.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases the man had extensive travel history in Nigeria before returning to South Africa.
“He fell ill after entering South Africa and was hospitalised in a Pietermaritzburg hospital,” the NICD said.
“Sadly, the man succumbed to the infection.
“Currently, efforts are underway to trace and monitor all possible contacts.”
Lassa fever is a viral haemorrhagic illness that was first discovered in 1969 in the Nigerian town of Lassa.
The Lassa virus is, according to the NICD, a zoonotic or animal-borne virus and the animal vector is the “multimammate rat” (Mastomys natalensis). The rats are persistently infected and shed the virus in their urine and faeces.
Person-to-person transmission of the virus does not occur readily and the virus is not spread through casual contact.
No secondary cases of Lassa fever, for which there is currently no vaccine, have been confirmed as yet.
“I don’t see it as a problem,” Winde told Weekend Argus.
“This is a single case in a different province, it is spread by rodents and occurs mainly in West Africa,” he said.
“I will, however, take advice from our medical professionals.”
The NICD said in 2007 South Africa reported a case of Lassa fever.
“It 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.
Up to 300 000 cases of Lassa fever, with about 5000 deaths, are recorded annually in the endemic countries.
“The fever is endemic to the West African countries and mostly reported in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria,” the NICD said.
“Lassa fever is less frequently reported from Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast.”