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Sierra Leone’s health ministry confirms two Lassa Fever deaths

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On Monday, 25 November 2019, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health confirmed three cases of Lassa Fever, following rumours of an outbreak of the viral haemorrhagic fever disease over the weekend.

Two of the cases are said to be foreign doctors, one of whom has died after they were both evacuated. The third is a Sierra Leonean nurse anesthetist who is currently isolated in the Kenema Lassa Fever Unit in the east of the country.

All these victims were part of a team of medical personnel who operated on two pregnant women on 4 November 2019, whom are suspected to be the source of the incident. The deceased doctor, Dr Noulet Woucher, a Dutch national, was the head of the operating team. Officials said he died after arriving in The Netherlands on board a chartered flight. The second infected foreign doctor, a female, was the assistant surgeon in the operation.

Officials would not disclose either her identity or her nationality, except that she was stable and responding to treatment in her country.

The incident has sparked fears in the public, but officials said there was no need for concern. Health and Sanitation Minister, Dr Alpha Wurie, told journalists that all that was expected to be done is being done to prevent the incidences from degenerating into an outbreak.

“What we want of you is to calm the fears of the public, that indeed we have had Lassa Fever in Sierra Leone long before now. The difference is that it is now in a district that was not traditional
for Lassa,” the Minister said.

The incident in Tonkolili District marks the first time Lassa Fever has been recorded in areas that are not within the Lassa Fever belt in the country.

The authorities say a total of 48 people have been placed under medical observation, either having been identified as contacts to the confirmed and suspected cases or having shown signs and symptoms of the disease. Some 29 of these are said to be health workers.

Lassa fever, also known as Lassa Hemorrhagic Fever (LHF), is a type of viral haemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. Its symptoms include fever, weakness, headaches, vomiting, and muscle pains. Extreme cases go with bleeding. Sierra Leone is endemic for Lassa Fever. 

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