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Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a viral infection transmitted by a bite from infected mosquitoes most commonly found in parts of South America and Africa. When transmitted to humans, the yellow fever virus can damage the liver and other internal organs and be potentially fatal. 

The World Health Organization estimates there are 200,000 cases of yellow fever worldwide each year, resulting in 30,000 deaths. Yellow fever appears to be on the rise internationally, due to a decreased immunity to infection among local populations, deforestation, climate change, and high-density urbanization.

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How High Is the Risk of Yellow Fever?

The CDC has identified 45 counties with a risk of yellow fever transmission, many of them with tropical climates. While the actual number of yellow fever cases among U.S. and European travelers to these at-risk countries is low, vaccination is advised for most international travelers to these countries, since yellow fever has no cure and can be deadly.

How Does Yellow Fever Spread?

Yellow fever is typically spread to humans from bites by infected mosquitoes. People cannot spread yellow fever among themselves through casual contact, although the infection can be transmitted directly into the blood through needles. 

A few different species of mosquitoes transmit the yellow fever virus; some breed in urban areas, others in jungles. Mosquitoes that breed in the jungle also transmit yelllow fever to monkeys, who, in addition to humans, are a host for the disease.

 

Yellow Fever Symptoms

Yellow fever gets its name from two of its most obvious symptoms: fever and yellowing of the skin. The yellowing occurs because the disease causes liver damage, hepatitis. For some people, yellow fever has no initial symptoms, while for others, the first symptoms appear from three to six days after exposure to the virus from a mosquito bite.

An infection with yellow fever typically has three phases. The first phase of symptoms can last for three to four days and then, for most people, disappears. The first phase is generally non-specific and can not be distinguished from other viral infections.

The initial symptoms of yellow fever are: 

  • Fever and chills
  • Flu-like symptoms such as muscle aches, headache, and vomiting

The next phase is remission, which lasts for 48 hours. Patients improve. The majority recover.

Unfortunately, a third, more toxic phase of infection occurs for 15% of patients. Ultimately, a condition called viral hemorrhagic fever can develop, with internal bleeding (hemorrhaging), high fever, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and circulatory system. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 50% of people worldwide who reach this severe phase of infection die, while half recover.

The third-phase symptoms of yellow fever are:

  • Jaundice (liver damage), which causes yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • Internal bleeding (hemorrhaging)
  • Vomiting blood
  • Shock
  • Multisystem organ failure leading to death

 

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