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“Under the radar” – Ongoing Lassa Fever Outbreak

By Dr. Stephen A. Berger

Stethoscope on Africa map
Nigeria is battling the largest recorded Lassa Fever outbreak to-date

 

Lassa Fever in Nigeria is a paradigm for Infectious Disease outbreaks that continue to threaten massive populations “under the radar” during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of October 3, 2020, a total of 1,112 fatal cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Nigeria.

In terms of population size, the statistical likelihood of dying from this disease in Nigeria – or in Singapore – is exactly the same. But then…nobody in Singapore is dying these days from Lassa Fever.    

WHAT IS LASSA FEVER?

The disease was first recognized in 1969, in northeastern Nigeria. The virus is acquired from African rodents and their secretions, primarily the Multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis) which is its natural reservoir. A secondary person-to-person transmission can occur through contact with infected bodily fluids.

The illness is characterized by fever, pharyngitis, headache, chest pain, and diarrhea. 

Leukopenia, proteinuria, and hepatic dysfunction may also be present. Permanent hearing loss is common – indeed, this disease is the most common cause of acquired deafness in West Africa. Reported case-fatality rates range between 15-25%.

Multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis)
Multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis), a reservoir of Lassa Fever

DISTRIBUTION

It is estimated that as many as 500,000 individuals are infected in West Africa each year, resulting in 5,000 deaths. During the past 50 years, at least 88 travelers have returned home to other countries with this disease – including 11 importations into the United States. 

An ongoing outbreak of Lassa Fever continues in Nigeria well into 2020 – with 5,527 cases (222 fatal) reported as of August 16…all against the background of COVID-19.

Lassa Fever outbreaks map 2018-2020
Recent outbreaks map, 2018-2020, GIDEON

 

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Want to learn more? We’ve got the eBook for you! Check out the 2020 edition of  Lassa and Lujo Fevers: Global Status

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