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Lassa Fever

Did your doctor just say you had "Lots of Fever" . . . or was it "Lassa Fever?" Better hope was the first, or you might be dead tomorrow morning.

Discovered in 1969 in Nigeria, this lethal virus is responsible for a third of hospital deaths in regions where regular epidemics can kill up to half of its victims. Puffiness of the face, red eyes, high fever and and gut pain may signal that the virus is killing off your blood cells -- often about three weeks after exposure. Death frequently occurs from catastrophic gastrointestinal hemorrhage. Even survivors may have permanent nerve deafness.

If you're thinking of catching this deadly RNA virus, one easy way is to go to the African country of Guinnae -- where half a million annual cases are thought to occur -- and spend a few weeks inhaling mouse excrement from the hairless-tailed Mastomys natalensis. Less effective is person-to-person contact, which is one reason so many panic-stricken doctors have survived working in Lassa Wards to write terrifying novels of their experiences.

Like the famous Ebola virus, Lassa Fever is an "emerging threat" that maybe some of us were better off not knowing about. But If you're still worried about the diagnosis -- relax. Eighty percent of exposed Africans somehow develop immunity without even noticing the illness. If you're one of the fraction who gets really sick, there still no reason to worry -- no doctor is likely to diagnose you with Lassa Fever, since there are no simple tests for the illness, which is just as well, since the best antiviral treatments are not available on hospital shelves. In any case, if you get really sick from a disease like Lassa Fever you might be better off investing in funeral arrangements rather than expensive medical care. So let's just pretend the doctor said "Lots of Fever."

Still worried? Take a "lassa" aspirin. Then re-visit this website in the morning.

If you're still alive.

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