Yellow fever is an acute viral infection transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. These insects become yellow fever carriers, or vectors, by feeding on a person who has the virus. Yellow fever, which gained notoriety when it felled thousands of workers during the building of the Panama Canal, is now rare in the United States, but there are still widespread epidemics every few years in Africa and in Central and South America. Fortunately, a better understanding of the spread and treatment of yellow fever has greatly reduced its mortality rate.
Fever and jaundice are two hallmarks of the disease. The fever, which ranges from 102° to 104°F , comes on suddenly three to six days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. In this first stage, other symptoms include constipation, headache, a flushed face, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, and a slow heartbeat. Bleeding from the gums and nose also may occur. The patient is likely to be restless and irritable. These symptoms last for two or three days, and in mild cases, the patient recovers without further symptoms and may not even be aware that he had yellow fever. In moderate to severe episodes however, the symptoms subside only temporarily. After a period that lasts from several hours to a few days, the fever and other symptoms return, this time accompanied by jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes that give the disease its name. The jaundice indicates liver damage, one of the more serious manifestations of yellow fever. The tongue turns a bright red at the edges and tip, and bleeding from the nose, mouth, and intestinal tract develops. In the most severe incidences of yellow fever, the patient vomits black blood and becomes confused and lethargic.
In life threatening cases of the disease, this stage is usually followed by delirium and then coma. Yellow fever that is severe enough to be diagnosed has a 10 to 20 percent mortality rate. However, because many mild cases are attributed to flu or other illnesses, the overall mortality rate is probably much smaller.
Other Causes of Yellow Fever Symptoms
Fever is associated with many other disorders, ranging from flu to malaria. Likewise, headaches, muscle pain, and other symptoms of yellow fever can have numerous other causes. It is the specific combination of symptoms, plus their rapid onset and the brief period of remission, that is characteristic of the yellow fever virus.
Diagnostic Studies And Procedures
The disease is suspected when typical symptoms develop in someone who has traveled recently to an area where yellow fever is endemic. Urine studies usually find a high level of protein; blood tests show clotting abnormalities and reduced liver function.
Medical Treatments to Get Rid of Yellow Fever
Because yellow fever is a viral disease, no specific drug or treatment can cure it. Instead, treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms, with an emphasis on total bed rest and nursing care. Because hemorrhaging is often a factor in severe cases, intravenous medications to reduce the risk of bleeding may be administered. If hemorrhaging does occur, blood transfusions may be needed. In other instances, widespread clotting is a potentially fatal complication. Therefore, this possibility must be treated early with preventive drugs.
Alternative Therapies for Yellow Fever
As with medical treatments, these are directed to lowering the fever and alleviating other symptoms.
Homeopaths use many different remedies to treat fevers. Belladonna is sometimes suggested for a fever of rapid onset, and sulphur for fever that returns after partial recovery. Belladonna is also prescribed for headaches that come on suddenly. Muscle aches and prostration may be treated with arnica.
A high fiber diet and extra fluids can help overcome the constipation. Fresh fruits, dried prunes, brown rice, raw green leafy vegetables, and bran all add fiber to the diet. Two to three tablespoons of rapeseed oil taken once a day will help soften stools. Vitamin K supplements can promote proper clotting to help deal with bleeding gums, but these should be taken only under a doctor’s supervision.
The best self treatment for yellow fever is prevention. Vaccination confers immunity for up to 10 years. Anyone planning to travel in central Africa or certain areas of South and Central America where the disease is endemic should be immunized against yellow fever. Consult your doctor, local health department, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for immunization information. Mosquito control is also an important aspect of prevention. If you are visiting or working in an area where yellow fever is prevalent, make certain that your accommodations are screened, and sleep under a mosquito net. Use insect repellent and wear long sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors. Also, eliminate any standing pools of water that might attract mosquitoes and other undesirable insects. Anyone who has yellow fever should be isolated in a well screened room to protect against further mosquito bites. A bout of yellow fever will confer life long immunity. Mild yellow fever is self limiting and may be treated at home. Even so, a doctor should be consulted when the symptoms first appear, any worsening or recurrence of the symptoms may necessitate hospitalization. Complete bed rest is essential. Tepid sponge baths can help lower a fever. In order to alleviate nausea, try sucking on cracked ice.