Ribavirin for the treatment of Lassa fever: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Int J Infect Dis. 2019 Oct;87:15-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2019.07.015. Epub 2019 Jul 26.


Objectives: Lassa fever (LF) causes annual outbreaks in endemic regions with high mortality of symptomatic patients. Ribavirin is recommended as standard treatment for LF in national and international guidelines but the evidence base for this recommendation has been questioned recently.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review and included 6 studies providing efficacy data of ribavirin treatment for LF (PROSPERO protocol CRD42018103994).

Results: Besides retrospective case series, the evidence mostly relies on a single prospective clinical trial with critical risk of bias. In this trial, LF associated mortality is reduced for patients with elevated aspartate aminotransferase (AST) when treated with ribavirin (OR 0.41, 95% CI 0.23-0.73), while mortality is higher for patients without elevated AST (OR 2.37, 95% CI 1.07-5.25).

Conclusions: Based on the available data, current treatment guidelines may therefore put patients with mild LF at increased risk of death. The role of ribavirin in the treatment of LF requires urgent reassessment.

Keywords: Haemorrhagic fever; LASV; Lassa fever; Ribavirin.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / metabolism
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Lassa Fever / drug therapy*
  • Lassa Fever / enzymology
  • Lassa Fever / mortality
  • Lassa Fever / virology
  • Lassa virus / drug effects*
  • Lassa virus / physiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ribavirin / therapeutic use*


  • Ribavirin
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases