• Lassa fever case confirmation means Addenbrooke’s faces major service closures
  • HSJ told ‘dozens of critical care staff could need to isolate for three weeks’
  • Service closures at tertiary centre forces declaration of regional ‘major incident’
  • UK Health Security Agency says risk to public is ‘very low’

The East of England region has declared a major incident due to a case of Lassa fever at a major teaching hospital knocking out significant critical care capacity, HSJ can reveal.

The move follows a case being treated at Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust, which has been forced to close “a substantial portion of our critical care capacity” as a result, according to an internal message seen by HSJ.

The patient has now been transferred to a London hospital, understood to be infectious disease centre the Royal Free. But HSJ understands dozens of staff in critical care at CUH are now expected to have to isolate for up to three weeks, because they were in contact with the individual. The absences mean that CUH, which is a regional critical care centre, has had to close dozens of intensive care beds.

An email seen by HSJ said: “We have declared an incident at CUH as a result of the reduction in our critical care capacity due to staffing levels. Due to our operational status, and the impact on other hospitals within our region, [NHSE] has declared a major critical incident in our region.”

There will be a ”significant impact on our clinical services”, the CUH email says. HSJ understands some patients are being directed to other services. 

Some critical specialist services such as transplants may be directed to or supported by services outside the region. 

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus. The UK Health Security Agency said people usually become infected with Lassa virus through exposure to food or household items contaminated with urine or faeces of infected rats – present in a number of West African countries, where the disease is endemic. The virus can also be spread through infected bodily fluids.

CUH has told staff “a robust contact-tracing exercise with all staff who had contact with the patient during their stay” was under way. Staff considered at risk face a precautionary isolation period of 14 days and have been told not to have patient contact for 21 days.

The news follows the UK Health Security Agency announcing this afternoon a third case of Lassa fever had been confirmed. The patient died after being treated at Bedfordshire Hospitals Foundation Trust, the UKHSA said.

The trust said in a statement: “We confirm the sad death of a patient at our trust, who had confirmed Lassa fever. We send our deepest condolences to their family at this difficult time.”

Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said: “Cases of Lassa fever are rare in the UK and it does not spread easily between people. The overall risk to the public is very low.

“We are contacting the individuals who have had close contact with the cases prior to confirmation of their infection, to provide appropriate assessment, support and advice.”

An UKHSA said the first two cases were “within the same family in the East of England and are linked to recent travel to West Africa”.

The trust and NHSE have been asked for comment.