The death of a new-born baby with Lassa fever in the UK last week has raised concerns about the global threat posed by deadly infectious diseases.
Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness, similar to Ebola, and people become infected through exposure to food or other items that have been contaminated with urine or faeces of infected rats.
So far, the UK has confirmed three cases. It is the first time the acute viral illness has emerged in the UK in 13 years. It is normally only seen in west Africa, The Guardian reported.
Officials from the UK Health Security Agency are closely monitoring hundreds of people identified as potential contacts of the three cases.
Many of these individuals will continue to be monitored for the rest of the month and into March, the report said.
While no further cases have been identified to date, global health experts noted the return of Lassa fever at a time when the UK is still fighting off Covid-19 is a sign of worse things to come.
“The three confirmed cases of the potentially deadly Lassa fever in the UK, now very sadly including one death, are a stark reminder of our interconnected world and the need to continue to invest in outbreak preparedness and response efforts,” Melanie Saville, the director of vaccine development at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), was quoted as saying.
“Emerging infectious diseases are increasing in prevalence, severity and spread as a result of climate change, global transportation and human encroachment into previously isolated areas,” she added.
The growing threat posed by deadly infectious diseases, Saville said, underlines the “urgent need for vaccine”.
CEPI is now advancing the development of six Lassa fever vaccines. Three of these — developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), and Themis Bioscience — are the first in the world to enter clinical trials, the report said.
Further, to produce a licensed Lassa vaccine for routine immunisation, the largest-ever Lassa fever study, called Enable, has been launched in west Africa with more than 20,000 participants, the report said.
Some scientists have raised concerns over the need to increase funding for the development of vaccines for other deadly infectious diseases.
Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the creators of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, had warned in October that her team was struggling to raise the money needed to develop vaccines against diseases, including Lassa fever.
Meanwhile, the UK government this week committed 10 million pound funding for research into vaccines against deadly infectious diseases. The UK Vaccine Network will provide grants for 22 projects aimed at tackling severe illnesses in low- and middle-income countries.
They include 498,000 pound to DIOSynVax to develop its vaccine against Lassa fever, Ebola and Marburg virus disease, the report said.