South Africa reports first case of Lassa fever since 2007

Contact tracing efforts underway following detection of the country’s first case in 15 years.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the country’s first reported case of Lassa fever was identified in a man from KwaZulu-Natal who had travelled to Nigeria. The man who fell ill after entering South Africa was hospitalised in a Pietermaritzburg hospital. He has reportedly died since. Sinenhlanhla Jimoh, the senior communications manager at the NICD, said the virus was confirmed through laboratory testing performed at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, a division of the National Health Laboratory Service. “Currently efforts are underway to trace and monitor all possible contacts. No secondary cases of Lassa fever have been confirmed at the time of this report,” added Jimoh. The disease is caused by a hemorrhagic virus that is harboured by rats and transmitted to humans.

“The natural host of this virus is a rodent species called the multimammate rat which is commonly found in homes and other areas where a food source can be found. The rats are persistently infected and shed the virus in their urine and faeces. Humans can come into contact with the virus through direct contact or inhalation of the virus in areas that are infested with the infected rats,” said Jimoh. The virus is endemic to the West African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. It is less frequently reported from Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast. According to the NICD, each year, up to 300 000 cases and about 5000 deaths are reported across the endemic countries. No vaccine is currently available for Lassa fever.