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What is Yellow Fever?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Yellow fever is a viral infection spread by an infected mosquito bite. The illness is most prevalent in Africa and South America. For this reason, not only are residents of these areas prone to the infection, but so are travelers. It spreads when the infection enters the mosquito's bloodstream and travels into its salivary glands, where it will remain until the mosquito bites its next victim. Upon a bite from the mosquito, the infection will enter the victim's bloodstream and cause him to become sick.

Symptoms of yellow fever typically appear within a few days of being bitten. There can be two phases of this illness. Not everyone will experience both phases. The first phase will typically produce mild symptoms which may disappear after a few days. Commonly, the mild symptoms include loss of appetite, muscle aches, nausea, headache and dizziness. As with most infections, a fever may also be present.

This first phase may be followed by a more severe and possibly fatal onset of symptoms. Yellow fever can cause a heart dysfunction, such as the onset of arrhythmias. Heart arrhythmias occur as a change takes place in the heart's normal rhythm, which may cause it to beat too fast, slow or irregularly. Arrhythmias can affect the heart's ability to function and may cause chest pain, shortness of breath and fainting.

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The infection can lead to other organ problems. It may cause dysfunctions of the kidneys and liver as well. As a result of liver problems, an individual may develop jaundice or yellowing of the eyes and skin. If the kidneys are affected, problems such as decreased urination may occur. The onset of any of these problems can cause abdominal pain, vomiting and weakness. Yellow fever can eventually lead to the failure of these organs, as well as other organs in the body.

In the most severe cases, yellow fever can cause hemorrhage. The bleeding may come from any opening in the body. Some possible locations can include the eyes, mouth and nose. Hemorrhaging is always a serious problem, because a person can bleed to death rather quickly under these circumstances. For this reason, seeking medical attention at once is important.

Brain disturbances can occur due to this infection and are usually quite severe. Delirium is one possible neurological problem that can happen. This generally causes sudden changes in the function of the brain, which may include severe confusion. A person can also go into a coma. Typically, this will mean a total lost of consciousness for an extended amount of time.

There is no treatment designated specifically for yellow fever. Anyone exposed to the infection may be treated on a per symptom basis. This may include receiving intravenous fluids, oxygen and treating any secondary infections with antibiotics. Additionally, individuals with damaged kidneys may receive dialysis and blood may be given to people with significant blood loss due to hemorrhaging. The best way to prevent this infection is to get a yellow fever vaccination prior to traveling to a country where the infection is known to be rampant.

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