Lassa Fever: An Old World Arenavirus Essay

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Lassa Fever: An Old World Arenavirus


A brief summary of lassa fever, its history, pathology and effects on the indigenous populations. Also, lassa fever in the context of newly emerging diseases. LASSA FEVER

On January 12, 1969, a missionary nun, working in the small town of
Lassa, Nigeria, began complaining of a backache. Thinking she had merely pulled a muscle, she ignored the pain and went on about her business. After a week, however, the nurse had a throat so sore and so filled with ulcers, she couldn't swallow. Thinking she was suffering from one of the many bacterial diseases endemic to the area, her sisters administered every antibiotic they had on store in the town's Church of the
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These viruses, long hidden in the deepest recesses of rain forests, are making their presence felt as much of the rain forest and other isolated areas become more and more accessible. Lassa fever is mostly on the rise as its main vector, the rodent Mastomys natalensis, is increasing in numbers due (indirectly) to an increase in poverty and scarcity of food.(Garrett, 1994) To be specific, when the endemic region has a scarcity of food, the villagers kill and eat the larger rat, Rattus ra ttus, which is a main competitor of the Mastomys natalensis, thereby allowing the smaller Mastomys to flourish. The disease mainly effects the areas of western Africa, from Senegal to, of course, Zaire, although it has been exported to the United States (about 115 cases). (Southern, 1996)
Lassa fever consists of two single strands of RNA enclosed within a spherical protein coat. The RNA exists as two strands designated L (for long) and S (for short). The S segment is the more abundant of the two as it codes for the major structural components such as the internal proteins and the glycoproteins, while the L segment codes for RNA polymerase and perhaps a few structural proteins. The protein coat has a number of T-shaped glycoproteins protruding from it, composed of GP (glycoprotein)2 which is the base and GP1 which is the T-bar. (Southern, 1996) This structure is what inserts itself into the receptors on the host cell. When the virus first gains entry into
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