What is Yellow Fever

If you plan to travel to South America or Africa, you could possibly run into one of the most prevalent tropical diseases there yellow fever. It is a hemorrhagic disease caused by a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which thrives primarily in the tropical regions of South America and the sub-Sahara areas in Africa.

Many travelers to these regions exposed to yellow fever get mild cases which result in vomiting, fever, nausea and headaches. More serious cases develop problems with the kidneys, liver and heart and even excessive bleeding also known as hemorrhaging.

There is typically a mortality rate of up to 50% for those with a brutal case of yellow fever. No particular treatment exists but there is a vaccine that could help you avoid the disease or at least lessen the severity of the symptoms should you do get it.

Yellow Fever Causes

As mentioned above, the Aedes aegypti mosquito is the primary transmitter of the virus which causes yellow fever. The mosquitoes thrive in and around water, even water that is super clean. Primates like monkeys and humans are most affected by this disease. In fact, yellow fever will likely never truly go away because the virus is often transmitted back and forth between the mosquitoes and primates.

First, the mosquito will bite a human or monkey who is infected with yellow fever. Then, the virus courses through the bloodstream of the mosquito and then settles in the salivary glands. When the mosquito, newly infected with the yellow fever virus bites someone, the virus is then transmitted into the next host.

Acute and Serious Phases of Symptoms

In milder cases of yellow fever, you can expect some of the symptoms mentioned earlier headache, fever, nausea and vomiting along with muscle aches, dizziness, red face, tongue or eyes and even loss of appetite. Most symptoms will not manifest themselves until after the incubation period of the disease which is typically 3 to 7 days after you were bitten by an infected mosquito. Then, the symptoms will last anywhere from 3 days to a week.

In more serious cases of yellow fever, the virus can become toxic to your body. Some of the life-threatening symptoms include signs of jaundice (yellowing of the whites of your eyes as well as your skin), liver and kidney failure, bleeding through the eyes, nose and mouth, stomach pain and possible vomiting of blood, seizures, delirium and even coma or death. Between 20-50% of the people who slip into the more serious cases of yellow fever do die while the rest eventually recover.

Treatment and Prevention

If you contract yellow fever, there is no particular treatment to take other than treating the symptoms. Hospitalization may be necessary in order to receive intravenous fluids as well as provide dialysis to help the kidneys filter blood impurities. Plasma may be given as well as oxygen and blood.

There is a vaccine for yellow fever which can provide protection for up to 10 years. You must get the shot between 10-14 days before you leave for your trip to allow it enough time to properly course throughout your body.

Add preventative measures to your routine during your travels such as wearing long sleeved shirts and pants. Insect repellent with DEET applied liberally helps as does treated mosquito netting for around your sleeping and lounging areas, particularly at night. Air conditioning and screened in areas are optimal.

Photo: Kip Soep/Flickr

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