Viral hemorrhagic (hem-uh-RAJ-ik) fevers are infectious diseases that interrupt the blood’s clotting ability. These diseases can also cause harm to the walls of tiny blood vessels, causing them leaky. The internal bleeding that occurs can range from relatively minor to life-threatening.
Some viral hemorrhagic fevers may include:
These diseases most often occur in tropical regions of the world. When viral hemorrhagic fevers occur in the United States, they’re often found in those who’ve recently traveled internationally.
These fevers are spread by contact with infected people, animals, or insects. No known treatment can cure viral hemorrhagic fevers, and possible immunizations exist for only a few types. Until additional vaccines are found, the best approach is prevention.
Viral hemorrhagic fevers signs and symptoms vary by disease. In general, initial symptoms may involve:
Muscle, bone or joint aches
Symptoms can become life-threatening
Severe cases of viral hemorrhagic fevers may cause bleeding, but people rarely die of blood loss. Bleeding may occur:
In internal organs
Under the skin
From the mouth, eyes or ears
Other signs and symptoms of severe infections may include:
Nervous system malfunctions
When to see a doctor
The best time to contact a doctor is before you travel to a developing country to ensure you’ve gotten any available vaccinations and pre-travel precaution for staying healthy.
If you develop any signs and symptoms once you return home, contact a doctor, preferably one who concentrates on international medicine or infectious diseases. A specialist may be able to know and treat your illness faster. Make sure to let your doctor know what areas you’ve visited.
The viruses responsible for viral hemorrhagic fevers live naturally in a variety of animal and insect hosts often in mosquitoes, rodents, ticks, or bats.
Each of these hosts typically lives in a specific geographic area, so each particular disease often occurs only where that virus’s host normally lives. Some viral hemorrhagic fevers can also be transmitted from one person to another, and can spread if an infected person travels from place to place.
Mode of transmission
The route of transmission differs by specific virus. Some viral hemorrhagic fevers are transmitted by mosquito or tick bites. Others are spread by contact with infected blood or semen. A few varieties can be inhaled from infected rat feces or urine.
If you travel to a place where a particular hemorrhagic fever is common, you may become infected there and then develop symptoms after you return home. It can last up to 21 days for symptoms to develop.
Simply living in or traveling to a place where a particular viral hemorrhagic fever is common will increase your risk of becoming infected with that particular virus. Several other factors can elevate your risk even more, including:
Slaughtering infected animals
Working with the sick
Having unprotected sex
Sharing needles to use intravenous drugs
Working outdoors or in rat-infested buildings
Viral hemorrhagic fevers can damage your:
In some cases, the damage is severe enough that result death.
Preventing viral hemorrhagic fevers, particularly in developing countries, presents enormous challenges. Many of the social, economic and ecological factors that contribute to the prompt appearance and spread of infectious diseases — war, displacement, lack of sanitation, destruction of habitat, and proper medical care are problems with no easy solutions.
If you live in, work in or travel to places where viral hemorrhagic fevers are common, take precaution measures to protect yourself from infection. This may include using appropriate protective barriers such as gloves, eye and face shields, and gowns when it come in contact with blood or body fluids is expected. Precautions also may include disinfection, careful handling, and disposal of laboratory specimens and waste.
The yellow fever vaccine is normally considered safe and effective, although in uncommon cases, serious side effects can happen. Check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention about the status of the countries you’re visiting some require certificates of vaccination for entry. The yellow fever vaccine isn’t best for children under 9 months of age or for pregnant women, particularly during the first trimester. Vaccines for several less common types of viral hemorrhagic fevers are currently in development.
Avoid mosquitoes and ticks
Try your best to avoid mosquitoes and ticks, particularly when traveling in places where there are outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic fevers. Wear light-colored long pants and long-sleeved shirts or, better yet, permethrin-coated clothing. Don’t use permethrin directly to the skin. Avoid unnecessary activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active and use mosquito repellent with a 20 to 25 percent concentration of DEET to your skin and clothing. If you’re living in tented camps or local hotels, use bed nets and mosquito coils.
Guard against rodents
If you live in a place where there are outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic fevers, take these measures to prevent rodent infestations in your home:
Keep pet food covered and stored in rodent-proof containers.
Have a regular routine of disposing garbage.
Keep trash in rodent-proof containers, and clean the containers often.
Make sure doors and windows have tight fitting screens.
Place woodpiles and stacks of bricks and other materials at least 100 feet from your house.
Mow your grass closely and keep brush trimmed to within 100 feet from your house.