A New Jersey man died Monday evening after been diagnosed with Lassa fever — a frightening infectious disease from West Africa that is rarely seen in the United States, a federal health official said.
The man recently returned from Liberia, arriving at New York City’s JFK International Airport on May 17. He grew critically ill after his return, suffering from multiple organ failure, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Health officials said they don’t think the case is cause for public alarm. Lassa fever is not spread through casual contact. About a half dozen other cases have been diagnosed in travelers from West Africa in the past, and none of them ever spread the illness person-to-person, Frieden said.
But as a precaution, the CDC and New Jersey health officials are trying to track down and monitor anyone the man was in contact with during the past week, including health workers at two New Jersey hospitals and people who sat close to him on his recent flight from Morocco to New York.
The illness is commonly seen in West Africa, in some of the same countries struck by the recent Ebola epidemic.
The last confirmed case of Lassa fever seen in a traveler returning to the United States was in Minnesota last year. The one before that was in Pennsylvania in 2010.
Generally speaking, Lassa fever is far less likely to be fatal than Ebola and less likely to be spread from person to person.