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, and Ghana.
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.
Note: This information is designed to complement and not replace the relationship that exists with your existing family doctor or travel health professional. Please discuss your travel health requirements with your regular family doctor or practice nurse.