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Home Topics Infectious Diseases Infections A-Z Viral Haemorrhagic Fever General information about VHF

General information about VHF

What are viral haemorrhagic fevers?

Viral haemorrhagic fevers are a group of illnesses that are caused by several distinct families of viruses: arenaviruses, filoviruses, bunyaviruses and flaviviruses. Some of these cause relatively mild illnesses, whilst others can cause severe, life-threatening disease. Examples of these viruses and the diseases they cause are shown below.

Arenaviruses

  • Lassa virus - Lassa fever, endemic to parts of West Africa
  • Lujo virus - in 2008, caused an outbreak in South Africa, acquired in Zambia
  • Junin virus - Argentinian haemorrhagic fever
  • Guanarito virus - Venezuelan haemorrhagic fever
  • Machupo virus - Bolivian haemorrhagic fever
  • Chapare virus – Bolivian haemorrhagic fever
  • Sabia virus - Brazilian haemorrhagic fever

Filoviruses

  • Ebola and Marburg viruses. These two viruses cause the most severe forms of haemorrhagic fever

Bunyaviruses

 Flaviviruses

  • Alkhurma virus (Saudi Arabia)
  • Dengue virus - Dengue haemorrhagic fever (and dengue fever)
  • Kyasanur Forest virus (India, Karnataka State)
  • Omsk virus (Siberia)
  • Yellow fever virus  - Yellow fever

Where are viral haemorrhagic fevers found?

Because the viruses depend on their animal hosts for survival, they are usually restricted to the geographical area inhabited by those animals. The viruses are endemic in areas of Africa, South America and Asia. Human cases or outbreaks of viral haemorrhagic fever occur sporadically and irregularly, and cannot easily be predicted. Recent outbreaks of Ebola infection have occurred in Central Africa. Occasionally, humans may acquire infection from animal hosts that have been exported from their native habitats, as occurred when laboratory workers in Germany handled imported monkeys infected with Marburg virus. Environmental conditions in England and Wales do not support the natural reservoirs of infection. See VHF Maps

How do you catch viral haemorrhagic fever?

Humans are not the natural host for these viruses which normally live in wild animals. Rodents are the main reservoirs of haemorrhagic fever viruses - examples include the multimammate rat, cotton rat and house mouse. Humans may acquire infection when they come into close contact with animal hosts, their carcasses during slaughtering, or their droppings. Some of the viruses, such as yellow and Crimean-Congo fever are transmitted between animal species, including humans, by the bites of tick or mosquito vectors. For some of the viruses, for example Ebola, the animal host is not known, but contact with monkeys has been implicated in some cases of infection. Lassa, Ebola, Marburg and Crimean-Congo viruses can be transmitted from person-to-person through close contact with symptomatic patients or contaminated body fluids.

How long can you have the infection before developing symptoms?

This varies according to the type of virus, but is rarely longer than 21 days. If symptoms occur more than 21 days after contact with a potential source of infection, then they are unlikely to be due to viral haemorrhagic fever.

What are the symptoms of viral haemorrhagic fever?

Symptoms also vary according to the type of virus, but initial symptoms generally include fever, fatigue, dizziness, muscle aches and weakness. In early stages, symptoms may resemble other infections - see here for differential diagnoses. Patients with severe disease may show signs of bleeding under the skin, from body orifices like the mouth, eyes and ears, or into internal organs. Severely ill patients may also show signs of shock, kidney failure and nervous system malfunction including coma, delirium and seizures.

How can VHF be treated?

Some viral haemorrhagic fevers can be treated with anti-viral drugs, however other infections can only be managed supportively.

How can VHF be prevented or treated?

A vaccine is available to protect against yellow fever, and is recommended for travellers to endemic areas.

No vaccines are available against other types of haemorrhagic fever viruses. Therefore, prevention measures concentrate on avoiding contact with host species.

  • Because many of the hosts that carry haemorrhagic fever viruses are rodents, disease prevention efforts include controlling rodent populations and keeping rodents away from homes and workplaces
  • For haemorrhagic fever viruses spread by vectors, prevention measures also include controlling the population of ticks and mosquitoes, and preventing bites by using screens, wearing proper clothing and using repellent spray
  • For haemorrhagic fever viruses that can be transmitted from person-to-person, great care needs to be taken when nursing patients, including isolation and the wearing of gloves, gowns and masks, in order to prevent the spread of infection. For an imported case of VHF, the UK has specific advice on management and control.

Do viral haemorrhagic fevers occur in the UK?

Environmental conditions in England and Wales do not support the natural reservoirs of infection, thus cases do not occur here, except as an imported disease. Such imported cases in travellers returning from endemic areas are rare: there have been 8 cases of Lassa fever since 1980, and a single confirmed case of Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever in 2012.

Where can I find more information about viral haemorrhagic fevers?

More information can be found in factsheets on the World Health Organization website: