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CDC: 150 possibly had contact with Lassa fever victim

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal and state health officials have identified more than 150 people who possibly had contact with a patient who died of Lassa fever, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

So far, most of those people face no danger, but six are at a high risk of having been exposed, CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes said in a statement. Thirty-three are at low risk. All are being monitored, Haynes said.

A New Jersey man died Monday after traveling in West Africa and returning to New York City’s Kennedy Airport on May 17.

Eight of the people being monitored were on the Royal Air Maroc flight that the victim boarded in Morocco after flying from Monrovia, Liberia, according to a government official with knowledge of the investigation who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release information publicly.

Officials have said he did not have symptoms while on the plane but developed a sore throat and lethargy later and went to a hospital.

University Hospital in Newark said Tuesday the man was transferred there Saturday from another hospital because it could deal with viral hemorrhagic fevers. The hospital said it was reviewing whether any of its employees were at risk of exposure to the virus.

Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston said in a statement Wednesday that the 55-year-old man came to the emergency room on May 18 and was treated and released. He returned three days later with a sore throat, fever and tiredness and was later transferred to University Hospital.

The disease is far less likely to be fatal than Ebola and does not spread through casual contact but rather through contact with the blood, feces or vomit of an infected person, or the urine or droppings of infected rodents.

Lassa fever was named after a Nigerian town where Western-trained doctors first noted it in 1969. An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 infections occur in West Africa each year, including about 5,000 deaths. In some areas of Sierra Leone and Liberia, 10 to 15 percent of people admitted to hospitals every year have Lassa fever.

The disease can cause a wide range of symptoms, including sore throat, back and abdominal pain, facial swelling, vomiting, hearing loss and tremors.

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