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Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers

Definition

Viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF) refer to a group of illnesses that are caused by several distinct families of viruses. VHF is used to describe a severe syndrome of illnesses that may affect multiple organ systems in the body. Usually the overall vascular system is damaged and the body’s ability to regulate itself is impaired. Some types of VHF cause relatively mild illnesses, but many of these viruses cause severe, life-threatening disease such as:

  • Ebola
  • Lassa
  • Crimean-Congo
  • Marburg

VHFs are reportable to the Iowa Department of Public Health by Iowa Administrative Code 641 Chapter 1.

Symptoms

Symptoms of VHFs begin 1-21 days after exposure, depending on the type of virus. Symptoms vary by virus but generally include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle aches
  • Weakness
  • Exhaustion
  • Bleeding under the skin, in internal organs, or from body orifices (mouth, ears and eyes)
  • Shock, nervous system malfunction, coma, delirium and seizures

Causes

Viruses that cause VHFs are distributed over much of the globe. However, since each virus is associated with one or more particular host species, the virus and the disease it causes are usually seen only where the host species lives. Therefore, the risk of getting VHFs caused by these viruses is restricted to those areas. Although people usually become infected only in areas where the host lives, occasionally people become infected by a host that has been exported from its native habitat, or by a person who gets infected and travels elsewhere.

Risk Factors

Living in or traveling to locations where a particular VHF exists will increase the risk of becoming infected. Viral hemorrhagic fevers method of spread depends on the resident animal host:

  • Contact with rodent urine, feces, saliva or other secretions
  • Getting a bite from an infected Mosquito
  • Getting a bite from an infected tick or an infected one is crushed
  • Contact with an infected animal during care or slaughtering
  • Person-to-person contact with infected body fluids or indirectly through contaminated objects such as needles

Prevention

If you live in or travel to areas where viral hemorrhagic fevers are common, you should take precautions to protect yourself from infection by:

  • Avoiding close physical contact with infected people and their body fluids
  • Control rodent populations
  • Discourage rodents from entering or living in homes and workplaces
  • Avoid mosquitoes and ticks and use insect repellents such as DEET

Treatment

There are no specific drugs available for the treatment of VHFs. Some antiviral drugs have been effective in treating individuals with VHFs. Supportive care is essential.

Additional Resources

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