Originating in Africa, this viral disease is most commonly found in many jungles and surrounding villages. Experts believe yellow fever was spread to South America during the slave trade in the 16th century.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito is often responsible for spreading yellow fever. While the virus is not transmitted within the United States, people of any race, gender, or age can get yellow fever if they are bitten by an infected mosquito. Travelers who may be exposed to tropical environments- or villages near them- should be immunized before leaving the country.
The two types of Yellow Fever
Jungle yellow fever: This form of the fever is spread by jungle mosquitoes and usually affects monkeys. When a mosquito bites a monkey infected with yellow fever, the insect then carries the disease and can infect other monkeys and humans it bites.
Urban yellow fever: Urban yellow fever spreads when an Aedes aegypti mosquito bites an infected monkey, then a human. If a human goes into the jungle, is bitten by the infected mosquito, returns to the settlement and is bitten by another mosquito there, that insect is then a carrier of yellow fever to anyone else it bites. It’s easy to see how yellow fever can spread quickly in that environment.
How to fend off the fever
Vaccine: One dose of the yellow fever vaccine provides 10 years of protection and is good for anyone 9 months to 60 years old.
People who should not get the yellow fever vaccine are:
- children less than 9 months
- breast feeding mothers
- those allergic to eggs
- those with weakened immune systems (i.e. chemotherapy, HIV)
In several of these situations, you should still get the vaccine if exposure to yellow fever is unavoidable. Be sure to talk to a doctor about your options.
Mosquito protection: Reducing your likelihood of exposure to mosquitoes also helps avoid getting yellow fever. You can do this by staying indoors during dawn, dusk and early evening- when mosquitoes are most likely to be out and about. When you are outside, try to keep as much skin covered as possible with clothing and mosquito repellant. Repellants containing DEET offer better protection for a longer period of time, but should not be used on kids’ hands or on infants less than 2 months old. Instead, use a mosquito net for strollers and playpens.
If you do catch yellow fever…
There will be several symptoms to identify the onset of yellow fever. They will most likely begin after just a few days with
- sore muscles
About 15% of people with yellow fever then enter the “toxic” stage of the virus, which might include
- a recurring fever
- abdominal pain
- kidney failure
- liver failure
- an irregular heartbeat
- bleeding from the mouth, eyes, and nose
- jaundice (when the skin and whites of the eyes take on a yellow tint).
Diagnosing & Treating Yellow Fever
A yellow fever diagnosis can be made with blood tests.
While there is not currently an effective treatment offered, the health care provider’s job is to make sure an infected person maintains adequate fluid, oxygen and blood pressure levels and prevents any secondary infections.