What is Viral Hemorrhagic Fever?
Viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) refers to a group of illnesses that are caused by four distinct families of viruses. These viruses cause sever multi-system illnesses, which means they affect several internal organ systems. Some types of hemorrhagic fever viruses can cause relatively mild illnesses, while others cause severe, life-threatening diseases, such as Ebola and Marburg.
How Common is Viral Hemorrhagic Fever?
The viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever are spread throughout the globe. Because 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. Some hosts are restricted to a certain area, while others live throughout a continent or the world. Due to global trading, it is possible for a host to be shipped anywhere.
How Does Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Spread?
Most of the viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever are carried by animals or insects. Generally, a person becomes infected after close contact with an infected person, or through the bite of an infectious insect.
What are the Symptoms?
Signs and symptoms vary by the type of hemorrhagic fever. Generally, initial symptoms include high fever, fatigue, dizziness, muscle aches, and exhaustion. Patients with severe cases often have signs of bleeding under the skin, in internal organs, or from body openings like the mouth, eyes, or ears. Other severe symptoms include shock, nervous system malfunction, coma, delirium, kidney failure, and seizures.
What is the Treatment?
In most cases there is no cure or treatment for hemorrhagic fevers. Patients receive supportive care. In a few cases, an anti-viral drug may be helpful.
Can Hemorrhagic Fever Viruses Be Prevented?
With the exception of two viruses, there are currently no vaccines available. Preventative measures include avoiding contact with host species by controlling the population of rodents, ticks, and mosquitoes and keeping them from entering living spaces.
If human infection does occur, it is important to avoid close physical contact with the infected person and their body fluids unless protective clothing is worn. It is also important to properly disinfect and dispose of instruments and equipment used in the treatment of infected patients.
Could These Viruses Be Used as a Bioweapon?
Yes. Marburg, which is similar to Ebola, is known to have been developed as a weapon. Because these viruses spread so easily, they could have devastating effects.
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