Lassa fever

Lassa fever

Taxobox | color = violet
name = "Lassa virus"

image_width = 200 px
image_caption = TEM micrograph of "Lassa virus" virions.
virus_group = v
familia = "Arenaviridae"
genus = "Arenavirus"
species = "Lassa virus"
DiseaseDisorder infobox
Name = Lassa Fever

Caption =
ICD10 = ICD10|A|96|2|a|90
ICD9 = ICD9|078.8
DiseasesDB = 7272
MedlinePlus =
eMedicineSubj =
eMedicineTopic =
MeshID = D007835

Lassa fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic fever first described in 1969 in the town of Lassa, in Borno State, Nigeria located in the Yedseram river valley at the south end of Lake Chad. [cite journal |author=Frame JD, Baldwin JM, Gocke DJ, Troup JM |title=Lassa fever, a new virus disease of man from West Africa. I. Clinical description and pathological findings |journal=Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg. |volume=19 |issue=4 |pages=670–6 |year=1970 |pmid=4246571 |url=] Clinical cases of the disease had been known for over a decade earlier but not connected with this viral pathogen. The infection is endemic in West African countries, and causes 300-500,000 cases annually with ~5,000 deaths.cite journal |author=Ogbu O, Ajuluchukwu E, Uneke CJ |title=Lassa fever in West African sub-region: an overview |journal=Journal of vector borne diseases |volume=44 |issue=1 |pages=1–11 |year=2007 |pmid=17378212 |doi=] Outbreaks of the disease have been observed in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the, Central African Republic, but it is believed that human infections also exist in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, and Senegal.Fact|date=August 2007 Its primary animal host is the Natal Multimammate Mouse ("Mastomys natalensis"), an animal indigenous to most of Sub-Saharan Africa.cite book | last = Werner | first = Dietrich, editor | title = Biological Resources and Migration | publisher = Springer | date = 2004 | pages = 363 | isbn = 978-3540214700 ] Although the rodents are also a source of protein for peoples of these areas, the virus is probably transmitted by the contact with the feces and urine of animals accessing grain stores in residences.


Lassa fever is caused by the "Lassa virus", a member of the Arenaviridae family; it is an enveloped, single-stranded, bisegmented RNA virus.

Replication for Lassa virus is very rapid, while also demonstrating temporal control in replication. There are two genome segments. The first step involved is making mRNA copies of the - sense genome. This ensures that there is adequate proteins, which are required for replication. The N and L proteins are made from the mRNA produced. The - sense genome then makes viral complementary RNA (vcRNA) copies of itself which are + sense. The vcRNA is a template for producing - sense progeny but mRNA is also synthesized from it. The mRNA synthesized from vcRNA translate the G (spike) proteins and Z proteins. Thus, with this temporal control, the spike proteins are produced last, making the infection further undetected by the host immune system.

Lassa virus will infect almost every tissue in the human body. It starts with the mucosa, intestine, lungs and urinary system, and then progresses to the vascular system.


Infection in humans typically occurs via exposure to animal excrement through the respiratory or gastrointestinal tracts. Inhalation of tiny particles of infective material (aerosol) is believed to be the most significant means of exposure. It is possible to acquire the infection through broken skin or mucous membranes that are directly exposed to infective material. Transmission from person to person has also been established, presenting a disease risk for healthcare workers. Frequency of transmission via sexual contact has not been established.

In 80% of cases the disease is inapparent, but in the remaining 20% it takes a complicated course. It is estimated that the virus is responsible for about 5,000 deaths annually. The fever accounts for up to ⅓ of deaths in hospitals within the affected regions and 10 to 16% of total cases.

After an incubation period of six to twenty-one days, an acute illness with multiorgan involvement develops. Non-specific symptoms include fever, facial swelling, and muscle fatigue, as well as conjunctivitis and mucosal bleeding. The other symptoms arising from the affected organs are:
* Gastrointestinal tract
** nausea
** vomiting (bloody)
** diarrhea (bloody)
** stomach ache
** constipation
** dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
** hepatitis

* Cardiovascular system
** pericarditis
** hypertension
** hypotension
** tachycardia (abnormally high heart rate)

* Respiratory tract
** cough
** chest pain
** dyspnoea
** pharyngitis
** pleuritis

* Nervous system
** encephalitis
** meningitis
** unilateral or bilateral hearing deficit
** seizures

Clinically, Lassa fever infections are difficult to distinguish from other viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola and Marburg, and from more common febrile illnesses such as malaria.

The virus is excreted in urine for three to nine weeks and in semen for three months.


All persons suspected of Lassa fever infection should be admitted to isolation facilities and their body fluids and excreta properly disposed of.

Early and aggressive treatment using Ribavirin was pioneered by Joe McCormick in 1979. After extensive testing, it was determined that early administration is critical to success. Additionally, Ribavirin is almost twice as effective when given intravenously as when taken by mouth. [cite journal |author=Fisher-Hoch SP, McCormick JB |title=Lassa fever vaccine |journal=Expert review of vaccines |volume=3 |issue=2 |pages=189–97 |year=2004 |pmid=15056044 |doi=10.1586/14760584.3.4.S189] Ribavirin is a prodrug which appears to interfere with viral replication by inhibiting RNA-dependent nucleic acid synthesis, although the precise mechanism of action is disputed. [cite journal |author=Crotty S, Cameron C, Andino R |title=Ribavirin's antiviral mechanism of action: lethal mutagenesis? |journal=J. Mol. Med. |volume=80 |issue=2 |pages=86–95 |year=2002 |pmid=11907645 |doi=10.1007/s00109-001-0308-0] The drug is relatively inexpensive, but the cost of the drug is still very high for many of those in poverty-stricken West African states. Fluid replacement, blood transfusion and fighting hypotension are usually required. Intravenous interferon therapy has also been used.

When Lassa fever infects pregnant women late in their third trimester, it is necessary to abort the pregnancy for the mother to have a good chance of survival. [cite journal |author=Price ME, Fisher-Hoch SP, Craven RB, McCormick JB |title=A prospective study of maternal and fetal outcome in acute Lassa fever infection during pregnancy |journal=BMJ |volume=297 |issue=6648 |pages=584–7 |year=1988 |pmid=3139220 |url=] This is because the virus has an affinity for the placenta and other highly vascular tissues. The fetus has only a one in ten chance of survival no matter what course of action is taken; hence focus is always on saving the life of the mother. Following abortion, women should receive the same treatment as other Lassa fever patients.

Siga Technologies is developing an antiviral drug that has been shown effective in treating experimentally infected guinea pigs. In a study conducted at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), treatment with ST-193 once a day for 14 days resulted in significant reduction in mortality (71% of the animals survived at the low dose), whereas all untreated animals and those treated with ribavirin died within 20 days of the infection. [cite press release
url =
title = SIGA Passes First Hurdle with Lassa Fever Antiviral ST-193


About 15%-20% of hospitalized Lassa fever patients will die from the illness. It is estimated that the overall mortality rate is 1%, however during epidemics mortality can climb as high as 50%. The mortality rate is greater than 80% when it occurs in pregnant women during their third trimester; fetal death also occurs in nearly all those cases. Abortion decreases the risk of death to the mother.

Thanks to treatment with Ribavirin, fatality rates are continuing to decline. Work on a vaccine is continuing, with multiple approaches showing positive results in animal trials.


Lassa virus is zoonotic (transmitted from animals), in that it spreads to man from rodents, specifically multi-mammate rats ("Mastomys natalensis"). This is probably the most common rodent in equatorial Africa, ubiquitous in human households and eaten as a delicacy in some areas.Fact|date=August 2007 In these rats infection is in a persistent asymptomatic state. The virus is shed in their excreta (urine and feces), which can be aerosolized. In fatal cases, Lassa fever is characterized by impaired or delayed cellular immunity leading to fulminant viremia.

The dissemination of the infection can be assessed by prevalence of antibodies to the virus in populations of:
*Sierra Leone 8–52%
*Guinea 4–55%
*Nigeria approx. 21%

Like other hemorrhagic fevers, Lassa fever can be transmitted directly from one human to another. It can be contracted by an airborne route or with direct contact with infected human blood, urine, or semen. Transmission through breast milk has also been observed.

Lab tests

There is a range of laboratory investigations that are performed to diagnose the disease and assess its course and complications. ELISA test for antigen and IgM antibodies gives 88% sensitivity and 90% specificity for the presence of the infection. Other laboratory findings in Lassa fever include lymphopenia (low white blood cell count), thrombocytopenia (low platelets), and elevated aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels in the blood.


Control of the "Mastomys" rodent population is impractical, so measures are limited to keeping rodents out of homes and food supplies, as well as maintaining effective personal hygiene. Gloves, masks, laboratory coats, and goggles are advised while in contact with an infected person.

No vaccine against Lassa fever is currently available, though development is underway. The Mozambique virus closely resembles Lassa fever, while lacking its deadly effects. This virus is being considered for possible use as a vaccine.

Researchers at the USAMRIID facility, where military biologists study infectious diseases, have a promising vaccine candidate. [Preston, Richard. 2002 "The Demon In The Freezer". Random House, Inc.] They have developed a replication-competent vaccine against Lassa virus based on recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus vectors expressing the Lassa virus glycoprotein. After a single intramuscular injection, test primates have survived lethal challenge, while showing no clinical symptoms. [cite journal |author=Geisbert TW, Jones S, Fritz EA, "et al" |title=Development of a new vaccine for the prevention of Lassa fever |journal=PLoS Med. |volume=2 |issue=6 |pages=e183 |year=2005 |pmid=15971954 |doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020183]


Further reading

* Theiler, Max and Downs, W. G. 1973. "The Arthropod-Borne Viruses of Vertebrates: An Account of The Rockefeller Foundation Virus Program 1951-1970". Yale University Press.

External links

* [ WHO factsheet]
* [ CDC info - viral fevers]
* [ Health Protection Agency - viral haemorrhagic fevers]
* [ Merlin]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lassa fever — [läs′ə] n. [after Lassa, village in E Nigeria, where first detected] an acute viral disease endemic to W Africa, characterized by high fever and inflammation of various body parts …   English World dictionary

  • Lassa fever — ► NOUN ▪ an acute and often fatal disease transmitted by a virus and occurring chiefly in West Africa. ORIGIN named after the village of Lassa in Nigeria, where it was first reported …   English terms dictionary

  • Lassa fever — An acute viral infection found in the tropics, especially in West Africa. Epidemics of Lassa fever have occurred in countries such as Sierra Leone, Congo (formerly Zaire), Liberia and Nigeria. The disease was discovered in 1969 when two… …   Medical dictionary

  • Lassa fever — n. an acute and often fatal febrile viral disease of tropical Africa. Etymology: Lassa in Nigeria, where first reported * * * lassa fever 7 [lassa fever] [ˈlæsə fiːvə(r)] [ˈlæsə fiːvər] noun uncountable a seri …   Useful english dictionary

  • Lassa fever — /læsə ˈfivə/ (say lasuh feevuh) noun an acute, often fatal, viral disease of central western Africa, causing progressive infection of the pharynx, lungs, heart and kidneys. Also, lassa fever. {named after Lassa, Nigerian village where the disease …   Australian-English dictionary

  • Lassa fever — noun Etymology: Lassa, village in Nigeria Date: 1970 a disease especially of Africa that is caused by an arenavirus (species Lassa virus of the genus Arenavirus) and is characterized by a high fever, headaches, mouth ulcers, muscle aches, small… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Lassa fever — noun An acute, and often fatal, viral infection endemic to West Africa. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, a skin rash, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, ulcers, heart and kidney failure. Syn: Lassa hemorrhagic fever …   Wiktionary

  • Lassa fever — /lah seuh/, Pathol. a highly contagious viral disease, largely confined to central West Africa, characterized by fever, difficulty in swallowing, and inflammation of the pharynx, often progressing to infect the lungs, heart, and kidneys, leading… …   Universalium

  • Lassa fever — Las′sa fe′ver [[t]ˈlɑ sə[/t]] n. pat an infectious, often fatal disease characterized by fever and pharyngitis, caused by an arenavirus • Etymology: 1965–70; after Lassa, Nigeria, village where it was first identified …   From formal English to slang

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