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Hemorrhagic fevers

Hemorrhagic fevers
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Are you worried about Ebola, Rift Valley fever and Marburg virus? 

Ebola, Lassa fever, Hantavirus, Rift Valley fever and Marburg virus are some of the world’s most feared diseases. They are all viral haemorrhagic fevers (VHFs). VHFs cause a raised temperature and bleeding. Some VHFs are relatively mild, but others are life-threatening. They affect the entire body and have a devastating impact on the way your body regulates itself.

Where do viral haemorrhagic fevers occur?

VHFs occur all over the world, unfortunately, but some are only confined to small areas.

How do VHFs spread?

The viruses that cause VHFs are diverse in nature and are transmitted in a variety of ways.

For example, yellow fever and dengue fever and Rift Valley fever are spread by mosquitoes, and Omsk haemorrhagic fever can be acquired from a tick bite. Lassa fever is contracted from the urine of infected mice and rats. Other VHFs spread via respiratory droplets.

The virus that causes Ebola, one of the deadliest VHFs, can be contracted by touching an infected person or their bodily fluids. It is also sexually transmitted and can be contracted from eating undercooked ‘bushmeat’ (the meat of wild African animals).

What are the symptoms of viral haemorrhagic fevers?

VHFs are a diverse bunch, but some common symptoms are:

  • raised temperature
  • muscle pain
  • gastro-intestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea
  • a rash or purple or red spots
  • flushed face
  • unusual bleeding or unexplained bruising
  • low blood pressure and shock

If you think you or someone you are caring for has a VHF, get medical advice immediately.

Should I be concerned about haemorrhagic fevers?

Haemorrhagic fevers can be mild, like Scandinavian nephropathic epidemic, but other VHFs are life-threatening. It can be hard to diagnose a VHF, particularly after you’ve come home. There are few effective treatments for some of these illnesses.

If you are travelling to an area where these diseases occur, you may be at risk of exposure depending on what activities you have planned.

Healthcare or voluntary workers could be at increased risk of exposure and should be given VHF isolation guidelines to follow by the organisation they are working for.

Talk to your travel health advisor to get information about recent outbreaks and use this information to make decisions about your itinerary.

How can I protect myself from haemorrhagic fevers?

There is a vaccine for one VHF: yellow fever. Some countries require you to have a certificate of yellow fever vaccination before you are allowed in. The yellow fever vaccine and certificate can only be obtained from registered yellow fever vaccination centres. Your travel health advisor can tell you whether you should get this shot.

Basic travellers’ health precautions will also help prevent exposure to VHFs. These include:

  • avoid insect and mosquito bites
  • take care over food and water hygiene
  • practise good hand hygiene
  • do not touch dead or sick animals
  • take local advice about quarantine zones
  • avoid mass gatherings if you know an outbreak has occurred recently

If you develop a feverish illness on your return from a region where VHFs occur, you should seek medical advice and let the doctor know where you have been.