What are viral hemorrhagic fevers?
Viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs) are a group of illnesses caused by four families of viruses. These include the Ebola and Marburg, Lassa fever, and yellow fever viruses. VHFs have common features: they affect many organs, they damage the blood vessels, and they affect the body’s ability to regulate itself. Some VHFs cause mild disease, but some, like Ebola or Marburg, cause severe disease and death.
How common are viral hemorrhagic fevers?
VHFs are found around the world. Specific diseases are usually limited to areas where the animals that carry them live. For example, Lassa fever is limited to rural areas of West Africa where rats and mice carry the virus. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fevers?
The common symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fevers are:
- High fever
- Muscle, bone or joint aches
Symptoms can become life-threatening
Severe cases of some types of viral hemorrhagic fevers may cause bleeding, but people rarely die of blood loss. Bleeding may occur:
- Under the skin
- In internal organs
- From the mouth, eyes or ears
Other signs and symptoms of severe infections can include:
- Nervous system malfunctions
- Kidney failure
- Respiratory fever
- Liver failure
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes viral hemorrhagic fevers?
The viruses that cause viral hemorrhagic fevers live naturally in a variety of animal and insect hosts — most commonly mosquitoes, ticks, rodents or bats.
Each of these hosts typically lives in a specific geographic area, so each particular disease usually occurs only where that virus’s host normally lives. Some viral hemorrhagic fevers also can be transmitted from person to person, and can spread if an infected person travels from one area to another.
How is it transmitted?
The route of transmission varies by specific virus. Some viral hemorrhagic fevers are spread by mosquito or tick bites. Others are transmitted by contact with infected blood or semen. A few varieties can be inhaled from infected rat feces or urine.
If you travel to an area where a particular hemorrhagic fever is common, you may become infected there and then develop symptoms after you return home. It can take up to 21 days for symptoms to develop.
What increases my risk for viral hemorrhagic fevers?
There are many risk factors for viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as:
- Working with the sick
- Slaughtering infected animals
- Sharing needles to use intravenous drugs
- Having unprotected sex
- Working outdoors or in rat-infested buildings
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How are viral hemorrhagic fevers diagnosed?
Diagnosing specific viral hemorrhagic fevers in the first few days of illness can be difficult because the initial signs and symptoms — high fever, muscle aches, headaches and extreme fatigue — are common to many other diseases.
To help with diagnosis, your doctor is likely to ask about your medical and travel history and any exposure to rodents or mosquitoes. Be sure to describe international trips in detail, including the countries you visited and the dates, as well as any contact you may have had with possible sources of infection.
Laboratory tests, usually using a sample of your blood, are needed to confirm a diagnosis. Because viral hemorrhagic fevers are particularly virulent and contagious, these tests are usually performed in specially designated laboratories using strict precautions.
How are viral hemorrhagic fevers treated?
While no specific treatment exists for most viral hemorrhagic fevers, the antiviral drug ribavirin (Rebetol, Virazole, others) may help shorten the course of some infections and prevent complications in some cases.
Supportive care is essential. To prevent dehydration, you may need fluids to help maintain your balance of electrolytes — minerals that are critical to nerve and muscle function.
Surgical and other procedures
Some people may benefit from kidney dialysis, an artificial way of removing wastes from your blood when your kidneys fail.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage viral hemorrhagic fevers?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with viral hemorrhagic fevers:
Preventing viral hemorrhagic fevers, especially in developing nations, presents enormous challenges. Many of the social, economic and ecological factors that contribute to the sudden appearance and spread of infectious diseases — war, displacement, destruction of habitat, lack of sanitation and proper medical care — are problems that have no easy solutions.
If you live in, work in or travel to areas where viral hemorrhagic fevers are common, take precautions to protect yourself from infection. This may include using appropriate protective barriers such as gloves, eye and face shields, and gowns when contact with blood or body fluids is expected. Precautions also may include careful handling, disinfection and disposal of laboratory specimens and waste.
The yellow fever vaccine is generally considered safe and effective, although in rare cases, serious side effects can occur. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the status of the countries you’re visiting — some require certificates of vaccination for entry. The yellow fever vaccine isn’t recommended for children under 9 months of age or for pregnant women, especially during the first trimester. Vaccines for several less common types of viral hemorrhagic fevers are currently in development.
Avoid mosquitoes and ticks
Do your best to avoid mosquitoes and ticks, especially when traveling in areas 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 apply permethrin directly to the skin. Avoid unnecessary activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active and apply mosquito repellent with a 20 to 25 percent concentration of DEET to your skin and clothing. If you’re staying in tented camps or local hotels, use bed nets and mosquito coils.
Guard against rodents
If you live in an area where there are outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic fevers, take these steps to prevent rodent infestations in your home:
- Keep pet food covered and stored in rodent-proof containers.
- Store trash in rodent-proof containers, and clean the containers often.
- Dispose of garbage on a regular basis.
- Make sure doors and windows have tightfitting 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.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Viral hemorrhagic fevers. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-hemorrhagic-fevers/home/ovc-20180472. Accessed September 13, 2017.
Viral Hemorrhagic Fever(s). http://www.medicinenet.com/viral_hemorrhagic_fever/article.htm. Accessed September 13, 2017.
Hemorrhagic Fevers. https://medlineplus.gov/hemorrhagicfevers.html. Accessed September 13, 2017.
Review Date: September 13, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2017