Research Article: Rodent-borne infections in rural Ghanaian farming communities

Date Published: April 24, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Shirley C. Nimo-Paintsil, Elisabeth Fichet-Calvet, Benny Borremans, Andrew G. Letizia, Emad Mohareb, Joseph H. K. Bonney, Kwasi Obiri-Danso, William K. Ampofo, Randal J. Schoepp, Karl C. Kronmann, John Schieffelin.


Rodents serve as reservoirs and/or vectors for several human infections of high morbidity and mortality in the tropics. Population growth and demographic shifts over the years have increased contact with these mammals, thereby increasing opportunities for disease transmission. In Africa, the burden of rodent-borne diseases is not well described. To investigate human seroprevalence of selected rodent-borne pathogens, sera from 657 healthy adults in ten rural communities in Ghana were analyzed. An in-house enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), for immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to Lassa virus was positive in 34 (5%) of the human samples. Using commercial kits, antibodies to hantavirus serotypes, Puumala and Dobrava, and Leptospira bacteria were detected in 11%, 12% and 21% of the human samples, respectively. Forty percent of residents in rural farming communities in Ghana have measurable antibodies to at least one of the rodent-borne pathogens tested, including antibodies to viral hemorrhagic fever viruses. The high seroprevalence found in rural Ghana to rodent-borne pathogens associated with both sporadic cases and larger disease outbreaks will help define disease threats and inform public health policy to reduce disease burden in underserved populations and deter larger outbreaks.

Partial Text

Rodents are reservoirs and/or vectors for several pathogens known to cause disease in humans. Disease may occur as sporadic individual cases as well as larger outbreaks [1–3]. Rodents are the reservoir of viruses in the Bunyaviridae and Arenaviridae families responsible for viral hemorrhagic fevers, including hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) and Lassa fever (LF). In 2016, the latter was included in the initial list of eight severe emerging diseases with potential to generate a public health emergency of international concern and identified by the World Health Organization for urgent research and development [4].

While conducting this study, the high degree of human and rodent interaction was apparent in the communities. All were rural farming communities, generally without electricity or potable water. Food storage options were limited and opportunities for rodents to access stored food, as well as human living spaces, were plentiful. The rodents found in human dwellings had limited species diversity, but were found in high numbers [11]. Exposure to rodents is universal in these communities, and development of rodent-borne disease is likely heavily influenced by whether the species of commensal rodents inhabiting human spaces are viable carriers of human pathogens.

This study found that 40% of residents in selected rural farming communities in Ghana have antibodies to one or more rodent-borne diseases. Leptospirosis was the most prevalent of the rodent-borne diseases we tested, though LASV, Dobrava and Puumala viruses were also present in at least 5% of the participants. We found high seroprevelance for rodent-borne diseases, including LASV in Ghana, which neighbors countries with recent LASV outbreaks pointing to the need for continued surveillance and study.