U.S. advancing fight against Lassa fever

In West Africa, an American run outpost is at the center of efforts to fight Lassa fever, considered a potential agent that could be used in a biological weapon.

The laboratory, run by Matt Boisen in southeastern Sierra Leone, is considered an outbpost of the U.S. government’s far flung war on terror. It was created with funding that was part of a surge in biodefense spending since the September 11, 2001 attacks and the 2001 anthrax attacks, according to Reuters.

American research in Sierra Leone aims to limit the damage that could be done to Western interests in the case of a biological attack. For Lassa fever, that means swift and accurate diagnoses.

The researchers’ aim is to create a fast and effective means to diagnose Lassa. Such a test could help quickly identify and contain a Lassa outbreak in the United States, Reuters reports. It should also help fight the disease in Sierra Leone, where fast treatment increases the survival rate.

The current research is part of a $40 million project involving Tulane University in New Orleans. It is being run out of a government hospital in the impoverished southeastern part of the county.

"There's been a renewed emphasis on those tropical diseases that (government health officials) consider biothreats," Boisen said about his work on Lassa fever, which, like ebola, can cause bleeding from multiple orifices, Reuters reports.

Lassa is a category A disease, according to the U.S., meaning it has the potential, like anthrax and botulism, to be used a biological weapon.

"There's a recognition that this is a higher level threat agent," Dr. Thomas Geisbert said, according to Reuters. Geisbert now works for the University of Texas, but was once a researcher for the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases.

"It would be naive not to think some terrorist group could use one of these things to create terror," Geisbert said, Reuters reports.