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Lassa Fever

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 27 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, (1) what hospital services exist in Glasgow for the treatment of lassa fever; and how many cases of lassa fever were treated there last year;(2) why the hospital facilities in Glasgow for the treatment of lasso, fever were not available for last week's victim of the fever; who took the decision to transfer the patient to Dundee King's Cross Hospital; and why it was necessary to effect the transfer;(3) what advance notice of arrival in Glasgow by train last week of the patient found to be suffering from lassa fever was given to his Department; when the case first came to his notice; from whom the information came; and what precautions or arrangements for quarantine or treatment were made as a consequence.

The patient who is at present in hospital in Dundee with suspected lassa fever arrived in Glasgow from the Ivory Coast on the evening of Thursday 21st April. He had been ill before leaving the Ivory Coast and contacted a general practitioner in Glasgow on the Friday morning. He was then seen by a consultant in infectious diseases, who first raised the possibility of lassa fever.No advance notice had been received from any source. At once the Greater Glasgow Health Board put into operation my Department's standing instructions for dealing with cases of suspected lassa fever. In accordance with these instructions, the Health Board informed my Department of the situation and arranged with Tayside Health Board for the transfer of the patient by special ambulance to Dundee.The Greater Glasgow Health Board is in the process of installing at Ruchill Hospital a patient isolator to facilitate the treatment of patients suffering from highly infectious diseases, but the isolator is not yet operational and the best facilities immediately available were in Dundee.The patient was in hospital in Dundee by 5 p.m. that evening.Acting on the information received from the Health Board, my Department issued on the Friday afternoon a Press statement about the patient's movements so as to warn chance contacts. It also advised all the health boards in Scotland by telephone of the situation, and alerted the Department of Health and Social Security, both because that Department has the United Kingdom responsibility for matters of international health and because the patient had travelled through England.At the same time the Greater Glasgow Health Board placed all the patient's close contacts under daily medical surveillance and his home was disinfected by the Glasgow District Council's Department of Environmental Health.No case of lassa fever has ever been treated in Scotland, and this is the first case where lassa fever has been suspected. It will not be possible to say whether or not the patient is suffering from lassa fever until the Microbiological Research Establishment at Porton Down has completed its investigations.Because of the increased dangers from imported infectious diseases such as lassa fever my Department, with the help of expert advisers, has been engaged over the last 18 months in improving contingency plans in Scotland for eventualities such as this present case. These have been discussed with all concerned and an agreed set of detailed guidelines on lassa fever is currently being printed. Similarly the health boards have been engaged in reviewing their facilities for treating such diseases, and I understand that special units with patient isolators will shortly be available in both Glasgow and Dundee.