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

Published in Nature Communications, 2022

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, Okogbenin S, Ogbaini-Emovo E, Garry RF, Smither AR, Zeller M, Pauthner MG, McGraw M, Hughes LD, Duraffour S, Günther S, Suchard MA, Lemey P, Andersen KG, Dellicour S, 2021. "Predicting the evolution of the Lassa virus endemic area and population at risk over the next decades". Nature Communications 13: 5596.


Lassa fever is a severe viral hemorrhagic fever caused by a zoonotic virus that repeatedly spills over to humans from its rodent reservoirs. It is currently not known how climate and land use changes could affect the endemic area of this virus, currently limited to parts of West Africa. By exploring the environmental data associated with virus occurrence using ecological niche modelling, we show how temperature, precipitation and the presence of pastures determine ecological suitability for virus circulation. Based on projections of climate, land use, and population changes, we find 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 ecological conditions that are suitable for Lassa virus circulation may drastically increase by 2070. By analysing geotagged viral genomes using spatially-explicit phylogeography and simulating virus dispersal, 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.