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Lassa fever

Last update: 2022-06-07

Key facts

Transmission

  • Contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or stools
  • Blood, faeces/stool, vomit, urine/pee, saliva/spit, etc. from a person sick with Lassa fever enters the mouth, nose, eyes or a skin cut of another person
  • Contact with household objects (for example, bedding or clothes) that have been contaminated with body fluids from a person who is sick or has died from Lassa fever 
  • Via contaminated medical equipment, such as reused needles
  • Unprotected sex with a man who has recovered from Lassa fever (for up to three months after he recovers)

Symptoms

  • Four out of five people with Lassa fever have no symptoms.
  • Starts with fever, general weakness and feeling unwell.
  • Headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough and stomach pain may follow.
  • If severe, can include facial swelling, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or anus, seizures, shaking, being confused and becoming unconscious.
  • Deafness occurs in one in four people who survive Lassa fever.

Prevention

  • Store food in rodent-proof containers
  • Dispose of rubbish away from the home (good environmental hygiene)
  • Control rodents (including by keeping cats)
  • Isolate (separate) people with Lassa fever
  • Use personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, clothing) when caring for sick people
  • Encourage handwashing with soap
  • Provide safe and dignified burials
  • Disinfect the homes and personal belongings of people who are sick or have died from Lassa fever
  • Promote social distancing
  • Dispose safely of waste that might be contaminated (by burning or burying it)
  • Disinfect reusable supplies
  • Provide psychosocial support

Vulnerable people

  • Pregnant women in the last three months of pregnancy

If an epidemic occurs

  • Identify suspected Lassa fever cases rapidly and refer them to care and treatment centres
  • Trace contacts and follow them up
  • Use personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, clothing) when caring for sick people
  • Isolate people who are sick with Lassa fever
  • Promote social distancing
  • Promote handwashing in communities and health centres with soap, chlorine solution or hand-sanitizer
  • Provide safe and dignified burials
  • Disinfect the homes and personal belongings of people who are sick or have died from Lassa fever
  • Dispose safely of waste that might be contaminated (by burning or burying it)
  • Disinfect reusable supplies
  • Male survivors of Lassa fever must practise safe sex for three months from the date on which they fell sick
  • Provide psychosocial support

Community-based assessment - questions

Make a map of the community and mark the information you gather on the map. Record other details.

  • When did people start to fall sick with Lassa fever?
  • How many people have fallen sick with Lassa fever? Where?
  • How many have died? Where?
  • How many people live in the affected community or area? How many children under five years of age live in the area?
  • How many pregnant women live in the affected communities?
  • Who and where are the vulnerable people?
  • Where are the local health facilities and services? (Include traditional and community carers.)
  • What are the community’s habits, practices and beliefs about caring for and feeding sick people?
  • What are the community’s burial traditions, funeral procedures and practices?
  • How do people in the community store their food? (Are rats or other rodents able to eat it?)
  • Are there handwashing facilities in the community or at the health centre? Are soap and water always available?
  • Is a social mobilization or health promotion programme in place?
  • Which sources of information do people use most?
  • Are rumours or is misinformation about Lassa fever spreading in the community?
  • Are health workers, volunteers or people who have survived Lassa fever stigmatized, left out, threatened or harassed? What are the main effects on them and their lives?
  • Do people in the community know about Lassa fever?
  • Do people in the community know the main signs of Lassa fever and what to do if someone becomes sick (phone number to call, actions to take)?
  • Do people in the community know how to protect themselves from Lassa fever?
  • Are people in the community taking social distancing seriously? Why? Why not?