The social sciences give us insights into health seeking behaviours and the organisation of care and treatment in clinical, informal and domestic settings. Social science research on Lassa fever care is relatively limited, although a number of studies are emerging following the 2018 Nigerian epidemic. Where no specific research on Lassa fever exists, we can draw on insights from the broader social science literature, including studies in domestic settings, with so-called ‘traditional healers’ and in hospitals and clinics. We can also utilise comparisons to other diseases and outbreaks, such as the Ebola outbreaks during 2014/2015, to support our efforts. Hospital and clinical ethnography are particularly helpful for understanding how formal health care works and how people engage with it.
As a viral hemorrhagic fever; Lassa fever has symptoms which are similar to other febrile diseases and hemorrhagic fevers, making clinical diagnosis difficult. Final diagnosis relies on complex laboratory diagnostics (by RT-PCR or ELISA), antigen detection or virus isolation, available in very few sites in West Africa. There are no Lassa therapeutics. In advanced stages of the disease, patients can develop bleeding and edema. Asymptomatic cases may occur as well. Lassa Fever is especially severe late in pregnancy, with maternal death and/or fetal loss occurring in more than 80% of cases during the third trimester (WHO 2017).