Mystery S.Africa disease may be rodent borne

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A disease that has killed three people in South Africa and forced others into isolation wards may be rodent borne, a health official said Sunday, SAPA news agency reported.

All three have died from external and internal bleeding. The first was a patient from Zambia flown to South Africa for treatment. A paramedic who accompanied her, and a nurse from the Morningside clinic where she was taken, also died.

“The causative agent of the disease … may be a rodent borne arenavirus related to the lassa fever virus of West Africa,” SAPA quoted Lucille Blumberg of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases as saying.

Blumberg could not be reached directly and the health authorities declined to comment on the report.

Arenaviruses can cause a type of hemorrhagic fever in rodents. Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever endemic to West Africa that may be spread from rodents to humans through contact with feces and urine.

Last week, the health authorities sent blood samples from the victims to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

SAPA said a nurse and a paramedic were being monitored in an isolation ward after showing symptoms of the disease.

(Reporting by Gordon Bell; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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