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Using modelling to disentangle the relative contributions of zoonotic and anthroponotic transmission: The case of Lassa fever

Many pathogens have the ability to infect different species. Lassa fever virus is an important example; this virus infects a species of rodent in West Africa, and can cause a severe disease in people. Lassa fever virus is transmitted from rodent-to-rodent, rodent-to-human, human-to-human and perhaps human-to-rodent. So far, the relative importance of these routes has not been assessed. Here we focus on the risk for humans; undoubtedly, most human infections are acquired by contact with rodents or their urine, but the relative risk of rodent-to-human and human-to-human transmission is unknown. We use mathematical modeling to address this. First, we identified Lassa fever outbreaks known to be due to human-to-human chains of transmission. Then, we looked at people hospitalized with the disease in Kenema Government Hospital, Sierra Leone (KGH), who could have been infected either by rodents or humans. We asked, what should the proportion of patients be who get infected by humans, assuming the statistical patterns observed in the human-to-human chains are the same in both instances? We found that around  of patients with Lassa fever in KGH probably acquired the disease from another person. In addition, the patterns of disease in people suggest that these  of cases are probably initiated by only a small number of infected people (who could be thought of as super-spreaders).

Geography: West Africa
Reference: Lo Iacono G, Cunningham AA, Fichet-Calvet E, Garry RF, Grant DS, Khan SH, et al. (2015) Using Modelling to Disentangle the Relative Contributions of Zoonotic and Anthroponotic Transmission: The Case of Lassa Fever. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 9(1): e3398.