From Science News
January 3, 2019
When an outbreak of a viral hemorrhagic fever hit Nigeria in 2018, scientists were ready: They were already in the country testing new disease-tracking technology, and within weeks managed to steer health workers toward the most appropriate response.
Lassa fever, which is transmitted from rodents to humans, pops up every year in West Africa. But 2018 was the worst season on record for Nigeria. By mid-March, there were 376 confirmed cases — more than three times as many as by that point in 2017 — and another 1,495 suspected. Health officials weren’t sure if the bad year was being caused by the strains that usually circulate, or by a new strain that might be more transmissible between humans and warrant a stronger response.
New technology for analyzing DNA in the field helped answer that question mid-outbreak, confirming the outbreak was being caused by pretty much the same strains transmitted from rodents to humans in past years. That rapid finding helped Nigeria shape its response, allowing health officials to focus efforts on rodent control and safe food storage, rather than sinking time and money into measures aimed at stopping unlikely human-to-human transmission, researchers report in the Jan. 4 Science.