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New York Times, 1970

History 

Lassa fever was first reported in the town of Lassa, Borno State in Nigeria, in 1969. Subsequent outbreaks occurred in Sierra Leone and Liberia in 1972 and led the CDC to set up a research programme for Lassa fever in Sierra Leone in the mid-1970s, although this was closed down when researchers fled fighting during the civil war.  The mission hospital in Sierra Leone where the Lassa fever programme was based was overtaken by the Rebels.  Throughout the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) and especially after the 1997 political coup, many health facilities in the country were destroyed and much of the public health infrastructure was damaged. During the war, some of the international research capacity for Lassa fever moved to the neighbouring Guinea, where the disease is also endemic, although the Sierra Leonean doctor Aniru Conteh was instrumental in setting up and managing a specialist Lassa ward at Kenema Government Hospital, with support from the British medical relief organisation Merlin. Epidemics of Lassa fever were reported in Sierra Leone in the 1990s and early 2000s. The civil war and subsequent political instability resulted in widespread displacements of people and the use of sub-par housing materials and temporary accommodation, almost certainly contributing to a number of serious outbreaks.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, Lassa fever research and clinical care has centered around the development of Irrua Specialist Teaching hospital, which was declared a Centre of excellence for the Control and Management of Lassa fever in Nigeria in 2001.  The Institute of Lassa fever Control at Irrua was inaugurated in 2007. The objective of the institute is to study and respond to Lassa epidemics in a more comprehensive way. Since the establishment of the institute, outbreaks of Lassa feverhave happened annually and lasted for longer periods, suggesting  are signs that Lassa fever is becoming a year round disease. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was established in 2011 in response to public health emergencies and to improve epidemic preparedness, and is the lead agency in the fight against Lassa fever in Nigeria. In 2018, there was an epidemic of Lassa fever in Nigeria where cases were reported across 20 states including the Federal Capital Territory, with most within Edo and Ondo states. This was the largest outbreak of Lassa ever recorded.

Resources

Level 4 hunters of the CDC

This book explores how and why level 4 viruses, the highest degree of laboratory containment for isolation, are so deadly and how we can prevent further devastating epidemics from breaking out.

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The coming plague: Newly emerging diseases in a world out of balance

This book explores the world's battles with microbes and examines the worldwide conditions that have culminated in recurrent outbreaks of newly discovered diseases, epidemics of diseases migrating to new areas, and mutated old diseases that are no longer curable.

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Fever! The hunt for a new killer virus

This book explores the growth, history and current impact of the Lassa virus. It traces the pathway of the disease, from the first reported case to the current struggles of communities experiencing Lassa and notable points in its history. 

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Understanding the cryptic nature of Lassa fever in West Africa

This resource synthesizes current knowledge of Lassa fever (LF) recoligy, epidemiology and distribution to show that extrapolations from past research have produced an incomplete picture of the incidence and distribution of LF, with negative consequences for policy planning, medical treatment and management interventions.

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Mystery virus from Lassa

Two sisters, both with a deep and abiding religious faith, tell the story of their involvement with a severe but unknown viral disease. One is a missionary nurse. Lily, who caught the disease; the other is Rose, who cared for her when she was brought back to the States. The shared story began with a letter from Lily.

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