Lassa fever: NHS services in the East of England hit as staff isolate

NHS services across the east of England continue to be affected after three cases of Lassa fever were discovered in the region.

A newborn baby died at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, an adult was cared for at Addenbrooke's in Cambridge and another has since recovered.

Staff who had been in contact with the patients are having to isolate.

Bedfordshire Hospitals Trust medical director Paul Tisi told a meeting the disruption would last "for a few days".

The BBC has also been told cancer operations at Addenbrooke's have been affected.

The three people being treated for the disease were all from within the same family and had recently travelled to west Africa, where the disease is endemic.

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The patient who was being cared for at Addenbrooke's has since been transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Mr Tisi told the Luton Borough Council's health and wellbeing board on Tuesday night: "There's some impact on services across the East of England, which is why the region is managing this as a major incident."

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the meeting was told local health workers and those who have been in contact with cases had been traced already.

Cancer operations disrupted

At Addenbrooke's, a surgeon, who did not want to be identified, told the BBC that staff isolating after being contact traced had led to a reduction in the number of transplant operations.

Liver and small bowel work was being particularly affected, they said.

They explained this had also led to disruption to major cancer operations that required intensive care beds for post-operative care.

Separately, in an email to staff, trust management stated that "a substantial portion" of the hospital's critical care capacity had been shut temporarily.

Staff who has been in contact with the Lassa fever patient had to self-isolate for a fortnight with no patient contact for 21 days, the email said.

It is understood the number of staff affected at both Addenbrooke's and the Luton and Dunstable is in the hundreds.

Both the Bedfordshire and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusts directed inquiries to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

In a statement, the UKHSA said it was continuing to "closely monitor" people identified as contacts of the three patients, and added that no further cases of Lassa fever had been identified.

"NHS Trusts have performed risk assessments on individuals and patients who have worked or stayed in the same ward areas as the Lassa patients," it said in a statement.

"Individuals have been given advice on monitoring and testing. The majority of individuals will complete monitoring by early March.The risk to the general public remains very low."

NHS England also said the risk to the public from Lassa fever was "very low".

Lassa fever, described as a cousin of Ebola, is spread through contact with the bodily fluids (blood, saliva, urine or semen) of infected people.

The urine or faeces of infected rodents also carry the disease.

Symptoms include fever and can be similar to flu, although bleeding through the nose, mouth and other parts of the body may also occur.

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