Yellow fever is a disease carried by female mosquitoes of two species ( Aedes and Haemogogus species). Mosquitoes pass yellow fever to humans through a small amount of saliva when they bite. The species of mosquito that carry yellow fever are native to sub-Saharan Africa and South America.
Yellow fever can cause flu -like symptoms, yellowing of both the skin and the whites of the eyes, and can cause death. Yellow fever is a rare disease in travelers because many get the vaccine, but is endemic in impoverished areas because the people cannot afford to get vaccinated. If you live in or have recently visited sub-Saharan Africa or South America, and believe you may have yellow fever, see your doctor.
The yellow fever virus is the cause of yellow fever. Yellow fever virus is transmitted to humans when an infected mosquito bites a person. Yellow fever is not communicable, meaning it cannot be passed directly from one person to another.
The following factors increase your chance of getting yellow fever:
Yellow fever has two phases: acute and toxic. All individuals infected with yellow fever will experience the acute phase. Fifteen percent of people with yellow fever will progress into the toxic phase.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, do not assume that it is due to yellow fever. Many of them also occur due to other less serious illnesses such as the flu. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention.
Yellow fever symptoms appear 3 to 6 days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Typically, acute phase symptoms will persist for 3 to 4 days, and then disappear. If an infected person is going to progress into the toxic phase, toxic phase symptoms will begin within 24 hours of the end of the acute phase. When a person recovers from yellow fever, they are considered to have lifetime immunity from the disease.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, medical history, and when and where you traveled. Your doctor will then perform a physical exam, and order blood tests to screen for signs of yellow fever in your blood.
Currently, medications or treatments specifically for yellow fever are not available. However, there are treatments that that can be given at a hospital to ease some symptoms of yellow fever.
It is important to keep the body hydrated. Fluids containing electrolytes and salts may be given orally, or may be injected through a vein to prevent dehydration.
Cool water or fever reducing medications (for example, Tylenol) may be given to reduce fever.
In toxic phase cases, dialysis may be needed to help the kidneys filter waste.
In toxic phase cases, a transfusion may be needed to replace blood cells and clotting agents lost through bleeding.
Fighting yellow fever may cause a person’s immune system to become temporarily weak. A weak immune system cannot guard against bacterial infections as it normally would, so infections occur more easily. Antibiotics may be given to fight bacterial infections if they occur. Antibiotics cannot be given to treat yellow fever because yellow fever is a virus, and viruses do not respond to antibiotics.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent yellow fever. However, like any vaccine, it is not for everyone. People with compromised immune systems, elderly individuals, and women who may be pregnant should not receive the vaccine. If you live, work, or are traveling in areas where yellow fever is common, ask your doctor if vaccination is right for you.
If you cannot receive the vaccine, or if you would like to reduce your risk of being bitten by a mosquito, you can do the following:
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
BC Health Guide
Travel Medicine Program, Public Health Agency of Canada
Yellow fever. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www2.ncid.cdc.gov/travel/yb/utils/ybGet.asp?section=dis&obj=yellowfever.htm . Accessed July 11, 2005.
Yellow fever. Massachusetts Government website. Available at: http://www.mass.gov/dph/cdc/gsrman/yellow.pdf . Accessed on July 14, 2005.
Yellow fever. World Health Organization website. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs100/en/ . Accessed July 11, 2005.
Last reviewed November 2008 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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