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July 22, 1974

Fever! The Hunt for a New Killer Virus

Author Affiliations

University of British Columbia Surrey, Canada

JAMA. 1974;229(4):470. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230420082044

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In 1969, in Lassa, Nigeria, a Church of the Brethren missionary, Laura Wine, became ill. Fever was the most prominent feature, but there were many fevers in Lassa. The camp physician, John Hamer, was at first unconcerned. As the fever progressed to profound illness, Dr. Hamer's worry mounted. Laura Wine died 11 days after the onset of her illness.

This atypical pattern and tragic death marked the beginning of a medical mystery story so perplexing that identification of Lassa fever virus required combined efforts of the United Nations World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, the virus laboratories at Yale University, the Rockefeller Foundation virologists, and cost several more lives. The laboratories at Yale were unable to contain this virus, and several researchers died. When research was halted, the CDC continued to conduct experimentation in the maximum security facilities. The threat of Africa being struck by