What is Lassa fever?
Lassa fever is a viral disease, which is carried
by rats. It is then spread from infected rodents to humans. The
virus can be transmitted through direct contact with urine and droppings
of an infected rat, through touching objects or eating food contaminated
with these materials, or through cuts or sores. These rats often
scavenge on human food remains or badly stored food. Contact with
the virus also occurs when a person inhales tiny particles in the
air contaminated with rodent excretions. It is also possible to
contract the disease person-to-person.
Early symptoms include fever above 38.5 degrees
C, headache, sore throat, coughing and intestinal discomfort. Lassa
fever was identified in a Nigerian village in 1969, when two missionaries
died of the disease; it was named after that same village.
Who is at risk of Lassa fever?
Any traveller to areas where Lassa fever is endemic
(that is: the infection is present in low levels) is at risk. This
includes Western Africa including Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia,
How can I prevent Lassa fever?
Travellers should take care with storing unused
food in rat proof containers and ensure that accommodation is free
from rodents by maintaining a suitable level of hygiene. Travellers
should also contact their GP immediately at the first sign of fever
on returning from a trip overseas.