On the Front Lines of Lassa Fever

Abstract

A niru Conteh spent 25 years in his native Sierra Leone dedicated to treating patients with Lassa fever, a rodentborne viral disease, to which he ultimately succumbed on April 4, 2004. Dr. Conteh's life is a model of the dedicated healthcare worker. His colleagues hope that his death can gal-vanize support for healthcare workers and scientists working on the front lines with Lassa fever virus and other emerging pathogens. The son of the local chief, Aniru Sahib Sahib Conteh was born in the small village of Jawi Folu in Eastern Province, Sierra Leone, in 1942. When Conteh was 16 years of age, his mother died, and he left school to help support the family in the capitol, Freetown. He eventually returned to school, where he studied chemistry and biology, and earned his bachelor's degree from Durham University, Freetown. After working briefly as a teacher, he enrolled in medical school at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He graduated in 1974 and stayed on to work at Ibadan Teaching Hospital. In 1979, Dr. Conteh returned to Sierra Leone, beginning what would be a 25-year career dedicated principally to the fight against Lassa fever. Lassa fever was first recognized in 1969 after three nurses working at a mission hospital in NorthEastern State, Nigeria, came down with a mysterious illness (1,2). A new virus was subsequently isolated from a blood specimen sent to the Yale Arbovirus Research Unit and named Lassa after the village of origin of the first case-patient (3). A larger outbreak , 28 cases with at least 14 deaths, occurred in the same region in 1970 (4). Lassa fever was first identified in Sierra Leone in 1972 in a series of nosocomial outbreaks (5,6). The disease was found to be common in the community as well, constituting a major cause of illness and death in eastern Sierra Leone, which prompted the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to establish a Lassa fever research and control program in Sierra Leone in 1976 (7). Dr. Conteh willingly plunged into this hotbed of Lassa fever in 1979 when he took a post at Nixon Methodist Hospital in the eastern town of Segbwema, the central hospital of CDC's program. He was named Nixon Hospital's medical superintendent in 1980 and later served as the clinical director of the Lassa fever treatment ward. When civil war broke out in 1991, the treatment ward was moved to the relative …

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@inproceedings{Bausch2004OnTF, title={On the Front Lines of Lassa Fever}, author={Daniel Bausch and Sanie S.S. Sesay and Babafemi Oshin}, booktitle={Emerging infectious diseases}, year={2004} }