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Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers

What is it?

Viral hemorrhagic (hem-or-AH-jik) fevers are a group of viral (caused by a type of germ called a virus) diseases. There are many types of viruses causing different hemorrhagic fevers, but all are carried from animals to humans in similar ways. No matter what kind of hemorrhagic fever, the signs and symptoms are similar.

The number of people traveling world-wide has increased. Hemorrhagic fevers used to be found in isolated areas of the world. Now the ability to travel from place to place has become easier and faster. This makes it more likely for people to carry hemorrhagic fevers from where they travel, to where they live. Hemorrhagic fevers are found in very warm countries near the equator, but may also be found in moderate climates. Africa is home to hemorrhagic fevers caused by the Ebola and Marburg viruses. Yellow fever is one type of hemorrhagic fever. Yellow fever caused sudden disease outbreaks in cities with both warm and moderate climates for many years before a vaccine was invented.

Are hemorrhagic fevers contagious?

The two most common ways of spreading hemorrhagic fevers are injection (in-JEK-shun) and inhalation (in-hal-A-shun).

  • Injection:

    • Mosquitoes and ticks take blood from one animal then go to another. When they sting or bite, they may transfer (inject) infected blood to an uninfected person or animal.

    • Body fluids may transfer the virus germs through blood, stool (BMs), and semen. This happens when blood or stool gets into a cut or sore. It can also happen if you swallow something that has the virus on or in it. The virus can also be passed by having sex. The virus may still be in semen after signs and symptoms have gone away.

  • Inhalation: Hemorrhagic viruses live in rodents like mice and rats. Viruses may be spread by moving or sweeping areas where infected rodents live or died. People who disturb or sweep these areas breathe in the aerosol (dust) the rodents made.
Hemorrhagic fever viruses may travel between people through the air by sneezing, coughing, or simply breathing.

What are the signs and symptoms of hemorrhagic fevers?

Signs and symptoms begin days to weeks after exposure to the virus. Most hemorrhagic fevers begin suddenly and get worse quickly. Some of the hemorrhagic fevers begin slowly and get worse slowly. Most hemorrhagic fevers begin with the following signs and symptoms:

  • High temperature above 101°F (38.4°C).

  • Rash.

  • Headache and body aches.

  • Dizziness.

  • Fatigue (being tired).

  • In time, you may have bleeding from the mouth, eyes, or internal organs.

How are hemorrhagic fevers treated?

There are no antibiotics (an-ti-bi-AH-tiks) that are used to treat hemorrhagic fevers. There is a medicine that is used to treat some hemorrhagic fevers. Other hemorrhagic fevers must be treated by symptom. For example, if you have a hemorrhagic fever and are having trouble breathing, you will be given oxygen to help you breathe.

Are there vaccines for hemorrhagic fevers?

There is an effective vaccine for yellow fever. You must have the vaccine several weeks before you come in contact with the yellow fever virus for it to work. Vaccines are being developed for some of the hemorrhagic fevers. So far, each vaccine is specific for one type of hemorrhagic fever.

What should I do if I am exposed to a hemorrhagic fever?

If you come home after visiting a place where there was a hemorrhagic fever outbreak, call your caregiver right away. There is a small risk that people living in rural areas in the Americas may come in contact with the Hanta virus. If you have signs and symptoms of a hemorrhagic fever, call your caregiver right away.

What is the risk of an outbreak of hemorrhagic fevers?

There is very little risk of an outbreak of a hemorrhagic fever far from the area where it came from. Your risk increases if you travel to an area where a hemorrhagic fever is common, and there is an outbreak while you are there. Breathing in the virus that causes a hemorrhagic fever will make you very sick. It is possible that some of the hemorrhagic fever viruses can be made into an aerosol (spray). These aerosols can be made into weapons. It takes a high-level lab with special air venting and other expensive equipment to handle hemorrhagic fever viruses safely.

Where can I get more information about hemorrhagic fevers?

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta, GA 30333
    Phone: 1-404-6393311
    Phone: 1-800-3113435
    Web Address: http://www.cdc.gov

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You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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