Research

Molecular diagnosis of Lassa fever in Nigeria

Presumably more than a thousand people in Nigeria die from Lassa fever each year. There had been no laboratories there for diagnosing the infection, and disease symptoms initially cannot be separated from those of many other tropical diseases.

Nigerian virologist in the laboratory of the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital preparing patient specimens for Lassa virus examination by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) (Photography: Stephan Günther).
Nigerian virologist in the laboratory of the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital preparing patient specimens for Lassa virus examination by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) (Photography: Stephan Günther).

As a result, patients with Lassa fever were usually not recognised as such and were neither placed in isolation wards nor treated properly. In the worst case, they transmitted the virus to hospital staff and other patients.
To break this vicious circle, in 2008 we built, together with our Nigerian partners, the first hospital laboratory in Nigeria for diagnosing Lassa fever. We installed all necessary devices on site and trained local personnel in modern diagnostic techniques. The reagents are being shipped to Nigeria regularly. This resulted in about 2000 suspected cases that have annually been tested since 2008, of which ten per cent on average were positive. These cases are immediately moved to an isolation ward. Many patients come to admission only after the onset of the disease so that there are merely hours or few days left to prevent a fatal outcome – one reason for the high fatality rate of up to 30 per cent. Our next objective is to reduce the mortality.

 


Asogun D.A. et al. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2012, 6:e1839

Meike Hass, Martin Gabriel, Stephan Ölschläger, Beate Becker-Ziaja, Stephan Günther, and external cooperation partners (see publication)