Households as hotspots of Lassa fever? Assessing the spatial distribution of Lassa virus-infected rodents in rural villages of Guinea

Joachim Mariën, Giovanni Lo Iacono, Toni Rieger, Nfaly Magassouba, Stephan Günther, Elisabeth Fichet-Calvet

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The Natal multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis) is the reservoir host of Lassa virus (LASV), an arenavirus that causes Lassa haemorrhagic fever in humans in West Africa. While previous studies suggest that spillover risk is focal within rural villages due to the spatial behaviour of the rodents, the level of clustering was never specifically assessed. Nevertheless, detailed information on the spatial distribution of infected rodents would be highly valuable to optimize LASV-control campaigns, which are limited to rodent control or interrupting human-rodent contact considering that a human vaccine is not available. Here, we analysed data from a four-year field experiment to investigate whether LASV-infected rodents cluster in households in six rural villages in Guinea. Our analyses were based on the infection status (antibody or PCR) and geolocation of rodents (n = 864), and complemented with a phylogenetic analysis of LASV sequences (n = 119). We observed that the majority of infected rodents were trapped in a few houses (20%) and most houses were rodent-free at a specific point in time (60%). We also found that LASV strains circulating in a specific village were polyphyletic with respect to neighbouring villages, although most strains grouped together at the sub-village level and persisted over time. In conclusion, our results suggest that: (i) LASV spillover risk is heterogeneously distributed within villages in Guinea; (ii) viral elimination in one particular village is unlikely if rodents are not controlled in neighbouring villages. Such spatial information should be incorporated into eco-epidemiological models that assess the cost-efficiency of LASV control strategies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEmerging Microbes & Infections
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1055-1064
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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