Lassa fever patient arrives in Atlanta for treatment at Emory

An American health care worker with a suspected case of Lassa fever has been transported to metro Atlanta for treatment at Emory University Hospital.

The patient was flown on a specialized Gulfstream medevac aircraft with an Aeromedical Biological Containment System and arrived early Saturday morning, according to Cartersville-based Phoenix Air.

“The worker had cared for or had contact with a Lassa fever patient at a hospital in Togo,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The patient is being treated in the Serious Communicable Diseases Unit at Emory University Hospital for symptoms consistent with a fever-related illness, according to Emory. CDC’s Viral Special Pathogens Branch will assist Emory with laboratory management of the patient and testing.

The Lassa virus is transmitted by rats and causes large seasonal outbreaks in West Africa, according to the CDC. There is a Lassa outbreak in Benin, which is next to Togo. The CDC said it is sending a team to Benin and a staff member to Togo to help respond to Lassa fever.

There are treatments for Lassa, and most have a mild illness, the CDC said. Only about 1 percent die from the Lassa virus. Although most infections come from contact with rodents and their excrement, human-to-human transmission is possible through contact with blood, tissue or excretions, according to the CDC.

Phoenix Air, which also transported Ebola patients in 2014 and 2015, said it handled the Lassa patient with protocols similar to its Ebola flights.

“We are now in the process of a deep decontamination program of the aircraft after which it will go back into service,” according to Phoenix Air chief operating officer Dent Thompson.