A South African civil engineer has become the third fatal victim of an outbreak of Lassa Fever in northern Sierra Leone, a health ministry official said Thursday.
While the acute viral haemorrhagic fever causes some 5,000 deaths annually in west Africa, according to World Health Organisation figures, it has usually only affected the eastern part of Sierra Leone and the outbreak has sparked fears it may be spreading.
"The death of the South African shows the active infection rate of the Lassa Fever virus in the district and brings to three the number who have now died," said Dr Amara Jambai of the ministry's disease prevention and control directorate.
The South African civil engineer, who worked for the Geneva-based bio-energy company Addax, died on Wednesday after contracting the virus in September.
"Lassa Fever cases in Makeni are worrying because the area has not known of any prevalence of the disease in recent times and the disease is very infectious and its case fatality is always high," said Jambai.
Lassa Fever was identified in the northern Nigerian village of Lassa in 1969 and is endemic in parts of west Africa including Liberia, Guinea and Senegal.
The virus is spread through contact with rat urine or faeces and later between humans through contact with bodily secretions.
Two people died in October in Makeni, including a woman who ran a restaurant selling rat meat and her six-year-old son.
Of the 153 cases recorded nationwide in the first 10 months of the year, 48 people have died, according to health officials.