Given the most recent outbreak of Ebola, there have been a lot of people calling to increase medical attention in the affected parts of Africa and dedicate more vaccine research towards Ebola. But why don’t outbreaks of Lassa cause the same concern?
The Lassa virus is another pathogen that causes hemorrhagic fever, with very similar symptoms to Ebola (symptoms that strike fear in all our hearts), including serious loss of blood, and can kill its host in about two weeks. While Lassa only shows these severe symptoms in about 20% of the patients, it kills about 5,000 people per year, more people than Ebola has killed since 1976, with about 100,000 to 300,000 cases per year (all data according to the Center for Disease Control). And, although Lassa certainly has not in the past been quite as deadly as Ebola, which can kill up to 90% of infected individuals, the number of cases and number of affected people clearly dwarf Ebola.
But, as with Ebola, there is currently no vaccine and no cure, which is even more surprising because we have characterized the virus and know the vector (or the animals from which the disease is transmitted), a rat called Mastomys natalensis.
While it is very understandable that people are concerned with Ebola at the moment, because this outbreak is so out of the ordinary, it does bring up questions as to why Lassa outbreaks (or any other viruses that cause hemorrhagic fevers) do not get similar media attention.