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Lassa Fever

Alternative names: none

Type of infection: viral

Incubation period: 6 to 21 days

Mortality rate: around 1%

Vector: rodent, specifically the Mastomys species of mouse

History

Lassa fever was first discovered by modern medicine in 1969, during an outbreak near the town of Lassa in Nigeria. Today it is endemic through western Africa, specifically Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. But compared to more serious diseases that are also very common in this area, Lassa seldom gets much notice.

Catching Lassa Fever

The host for Lassa is the multimammate mouse(Mastomys natalensis), found in Africa where it is extremely common. The virus is passed on through droppings and urine, rather than by mouse bites. Fragments of waste can become dust, leading to inhalation without even realizing that you've been near mouse droppings. Any grain or foodstuff that a mouse has gotten into can also be contaminated, and spread Lassa if eaten.

Exposure to an ill person's body fluids can transfer Lassa from person to person, but it's not really spread that way extensively. But if you are dealing with blood or urine from someone who is ill, be particularly careful.

Signs and Symptoms

Around 80% of all Lassa cases very mild and usually go undiagnosed. There is a low-grade fever, overall lethargy and weakness and headache. That's mostly it. Many cases will also result in hearing loss.

But in the remaining 20% of cases, it will get considerably worse. Bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth, vomiting, difficulty breathing, trouble breathing, body pains and complete hearing loss. If untreated, the organ failure can set in in about 2 weeks. Of these 20% of cases, only 15% will result in fatalities.

Treatment

In cases where the disease doesn't progress into further complications, you can just treat the symptoms to make the patient more comfortable and wait it out. Fluids and over the counter pain relievers are very helpful for aches and fever.

But unlike most other hemorrhagic fevers, there is a medical treatment for Lassa. The drug Ribavirin can be very effective if taken at the outset of the disease. If you have the drug on hand, you would need to take it as soon as the symptoms begin rather than waiting to see if the disease worsens.

Prevention

Keeping the mouse population in your living areas down is the first step, using traps or poison. If you do find there has been a problem with mice, do a thorough cleaning of their waste and any nest materials you discover. Just remember that it's not ALL mice that can pass on Lassa, just the multimammate mouse, not that it's a good idea to leave mouse droppings around your home at any rate. Any cleaning or handling of mouse bodies should also be done with gloves while wearing a mask.

Risk Assessment

Though the more severe cases can be pretty debilitating, Lassa fever isn't an overly fatal disease. And since its host reservoir is a very specific species of African mouse, it is not likely to be a disease that moves its way up into North America.




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