At least 12 people in Benin are suspected to have died from an outbreak of Lassa fever which has flared in west Africa.
Health officials in Benin’s capital, Porto-Novo, said by Friday they had recorded 25 suspected cases of the epidemic.
The first Lassa fever case in the West African country of 10 million people was listed at the Hospital of St Martin de Papane, in Tchaourou, a city 350 km north of Cotonou, the United Nations children agency UNICEF said in a statement.
An ongoing epidemic in neighbouring Nigeria has already killed more than 100 people since August.
Stocks of Ribavirin, a drug used to treat the infection, were being shipped to Tchaourou and Cotonou, the UN agency added.
Benin was last hit by a Lassa fever outbreak in October 2014, when nine people suspected of having the virus died.
The number of Lassa fever infections in west Africa every year is between 100,000 to 300,000, with about 5,000 deaths, according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lassa fever belongs to the same family as Marburg and Ebola, two deadly viruses that lead to infections with fever, vomiting and, in worse case scenarios, hemorrhagic bleeding.
Its name is from the town of Lassa in northern Nigeria where it was first identified in 1969.
Endemic to the region, Lassa fever is asymptomatic in 80% of cases but for others it can cause internal bleeding, especially when diagnosed late.
The virus is spread through contact with food or household items contaminated with rats’ urine or faeces or after coming in direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.