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Health Highlights: March 21, 2016

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Germany Reports First Known Lassa Outbreak Outside Africa

The first known outbreak of Lassa fever outside of Africa has been reported in Germany.

Three people are known to have been infected after contact with an American who died of the disease last month. The American was a medical director of a missionary hospital in Togo, NBC News reported.

"This is now the first documented outbreak of Lassa fever virus outside of Africa," according to a statement from the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's federal disease control agency.

"Three contacts of the Lassa fever patient who died at the end of February 2016 at the Cologne University Hospital have been diagnosed with the disease. All are under observation," the institute added.

However, Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf said late Saturday that the positive diagnosis for Lassa fever was withdrawn for two patients because the results could not be confirmed, NBC News reported.

But the university said those two patients were still suspected of having Lassa and remained under observation.

Another American infected with Lassa is being treated at Emory University in Atlanta. The patient arrived from Togo last week, NBC News reported.

There is unusually widespread Lassa activity in West Africa at the moment, according to experts.

The virus is carried by rodents and people can catch it from rodent droppings or urine in food or living areas. Lassa is not related to Ebola, but in severe cases appears similar to Ebola, with symptoms such as fever and sometimes bleeding, NBC News reported.

People with severe cases of Lassa are at high risk for death, according to Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University.

"When people come in very sick, we get mortality rates as high as 85 percent," he told NBC News.


New Anthrax Drug Approved by FDA

An injectable drug called Anthim (obiltoxaximab) has been approved to treat inhalation anthrax in combination with certain antibiotics, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The drug was also approved to prevent inhalation anthrax when other treatments are not appropriate or available.

Inhalation anthrax is a rare but dangerous illness that occurs when a person inhales anthrax spores from infected animals or contaminated animal products. It can also occur when anthrax spores are released in a bioterror attack.

"As preparedness is a cornerstone of any bioterrorism response, we are pleased to see continued efforts to develop treatments for anthrax," Dr. Edward Cox, director, Office of Antimicrobial Products, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA, said in an agency news release.

Animal tests showed that the drug improved survival after exposure to anthrax, compared with a placebo. Survival rates were higher when Anthim was used in combination with antibiotics.

The drug's safety was assessed in 320 volunteers. The most common side effects were headache, itching, upper respiratory tract infections, cough, nasal congestion, hives, and bruising, swelling and pain and the injection site, the FDA said.

Anthim was developed by New Jersey-based Elusys Therapeutics, Inc. and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

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