Predicting the evolution of Lassa Virus endemic area and population at risk over the next decades

Published in bioRxiv, 2021

Klitting R, Kafetzopoulou LE, Thiery W, Dudas G, Gryseels S, Kotamarthi A, Vrancken B, Gangavarapu K, Momoh M, Sandi JD, Goba A, Alhasan F, Grant DS, Garry RF, Smither AR, Zeller M, Pauthner MG, McGraw M, Hughes LD, Duraffour S, G√ľnther S, Suchard MA, Lemey P, Andersen KG, Dellicour S, 2021. "Predicting the evolution of Lassa Virus endemic area and population at risk over the next decades". bioRxiv: 2021.09.22.461380.

Abstract

Lassa fever is listed among the diseases that pose the greatest risks to public health by the World Health Organization. This severe viral hemorrhagic fever is caused by Lassa virus, a zoonotic pathogen that repeatedly spills over to humans from its rodent reservoirs. It is currently not known how climate change, transformations in land use, and human population growth could affect the endemic area of this virus, currently limited to parts of West Africa. By exploring the environmental data associated with virus occurrence, we show how temperature, precipitation and the presence of pastures determine ecological suitability for virus circulation. We project that regions in Central and East Africa will likely become suitable for Lassa virus over the next decades and estimate that the total population living in areas suitable for Lassa virus may grow from about 100 million to 700 million by 2070. By analysing geotagged viral genomes, we find that in the event of Lassa virus being introduced into a new suitable region, its spread might remain spatially limited over the first decades. Our results highlight how the endemic area of Lassa virus may expand well beyond West Africa in the next decades due to human impact on the environment, putting hundreds of million more people at risk of infection.