Lassa Fever Virus
Lassa fever is a severe and sometimes fatal haemorrhagic disease caused by the Lassa fever virus (LAFV). First identified in 1969 in Nigeria, Lassa Fever virus is an enveloped single stranded RNA virus that belongs to the genus mammarenavirus, of the Arenaviridae family of viruses. The natural reservoir for Lassa fever virus is the Mastomys natalensis rat, and transmission of LAFV to humans is through contact with contaminated rat urine and faeces. The virus is also spread from person-to-person via contact with contaminated human excreta, blood and bodily secretions, which causes a significant risk to health workers (1). LAFV is now endemic in West Africa and a significant outbreak of Lassa fever in 2016 resulted in 160 deaths.
Most individuals infected with LAFV remain asymptomatic but severe disease may occur in 15% of cases, with 1% of cases resulting in death. Symptoms of LAFV infection are variable, and non-specific, making early diagnosis difficult. The symptoms associated with Lassa fever range from mild fever, with headaches and fatigue, to severe life threatening multi organ failure. Early stages of the disease resemble symptoms of typhoid and malaria and therefore misdiagnosis is a risk (2).
Currently, no licensed vaccine is available for the prevention of Lassa fever. Early treatment is possible using the drug Ribavirin, but the similarity of Lassa Fever to other diseases may cause delay in the accurate diagnosis of LAFV infection. Diagnosis of LAFV can be performed using molecular techniques but requires access to high containment facilities. Therefore, LAFV infection is commonly diagnosed using serological methods to detect virus specific IgG or IgM in the patient’s serum. However, serological methods lack sensitivity and specificity due to cross reactivity with similar viruses, and improved methods of diagnosis are urgently needed (3).
In 2015, a workshop organised by the WHO identified Lassa fever as an emerging disease requiring accelerated R&D to underpin in vitro diagnostic development, vaccine design and therapeutics. The Native Antigen Company aims to support the research areas highlighted in the WHO 2015 workshop report on emerging diseases by supplying high quality products that are suitable for LAFV research and in vitro diagnostic assay development.
- Viral hemorrhagic fever consortium
- World Health organization – media centre Lassa fever
- Racsa, L.D. et al (2016). Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Diagnostics. Clin Infect Dis. 62: 214–219.
- The Native Antigen Company supports R&D on emerging diseases
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