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Yellow fever

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Yellow fever virus under a microscope.

Yellow fever is a viral disease often found in tropical regions. The coast of Africa often has the most cases. Yellow fever broke out in America in the 1700s; and in 1793 wiped out a great portion of the population of Philadelphia. The mosquitoes carrying the virus were brought by slave ships sailing from Africa. The mosquitoes will contract and spread the illness when stinging both humans and monkeys. Symptoms included extreme nausea, high fever, muscle aches, and yellowing of the skin or eyes. The illness can quickly escalate. Many after contracting yellow fever will die within a few weeks. Prevention includes the avoidance of mosquitoes in dangerous areas, and also vaccination. The vaccination is very important for both residents of countries where yellow fever is common, or individuals traveling to a country where they may catch the disease.


Yellow fever first terrorized the people of Africa. It was originally given the name the "yellow jack" in reference to the yellow flag posted on quarantine ships. Early on, researchers observed how the disease usually occurred in huge epidemics. Also, the illness often spread mostly through port cities or towns on the water. [1] It is believed that the illness was transmitted to the U.S. while importing slaves from Africa. Mosquitoes then traveled on the ships and were then exposed to the port cities of the country. While these mosquitoes infected the residents, other insects were also contracting the virus, causing the disease to spread wider and wider across the states. [2]

In 1783 specifically, yellow fever killed around five thousand people in Philadelphia, destroying about one tenth of the city. This may have even played a part in the government's decision to move the nation's capital out of Philadelphia. The illness even affected the French as they attempted to build the Panama Canal. Yellow fever played a large part in the failure of the Canal because so many french workers fell ill during the epidemic. Slave ships did not only infect the United States with Yellow Fever Mosquitoes, but many other countries and nations as well. Ships coming from West Africa also brought the epidemic to the Caribbean and Latin America. [2]

Infection and Symptoms

Yellow Fever Mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) are the main transmitters for yellow fever across the world.

Yellow fever has always been spread by mosquitoes. The Yellow Fever Mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) is often the main cause of the disease in both people and monkeys. The insect is most often found in the southerns hemisphere and only spread to America when the mosquitoes were carried on ships by accident. There are three types of yellow fever, all transmitted by mosquitoes. Jungle yellow fever is often transmitted by mosquitoes that have bitten monkeys with yellow fever. These mosquitoes then bite humans that enter into that same jungle. Intermediate yellow fever is common in the humid areas of Africa and the surrounding areas. Only small epidemics occur in such areas. Common house mosquitoes will carry it in these cases. Urban yellow fever is found in densely populated areas. These epidemics occur when mosquitoes transmit yellow fever in places with non-immune people, usually outside of Africa where the disease is most common. [3]

The symptoms of yellow fever appear similar to that of a regular fever. The fever may begin to cause symptoms about a week after the infection has occurred. Headaches, nausea, muscular pains and a high temperature are a few of the minor symptoms. A dangerous yellow fever will include severe headaches, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), and vomiting black fluid. [4] These more severe symptoms will begin to show within 24 hours of the initial recognition of the virus. Only about 15% of those infected will tend to experience the more serious symptoms. Bleeding from the eyes or nose may also occur in those who reside in this dangerous state. Fifty percent of those experiencing such symptoms will die within two weeks of their first symptoms. [3]

Treatment and Prevention

Though there is no drug that directly attacks yellow fever, it is important to manage it, like any other illness. If any symptoms are recognized, the patient should be immediately admitted to a hospital or care center. This can grow to be a deathly disease, and should be treated as such. Intensive care is necessary for anyone with recognizable symptoms of yellow fever. Treatment may often depend on how extreme the symptoms are. The disease may severely affect one part of your body, opposed to someone else who experiences it more in another part. Enough fluid is also very necessary. Patients must drink plenty of water. If they are unable, then doctors must insert a tube to supply the patient with fluid. Because muscle aches and fevers often occur, painkillers are often prescribed as well. [5]

Before traveling to any country that has a history of yellow fever, travelers are encouraged to get a yellow fever vaccine. This vaccine only requires one injection. The shot may cause flu or fever like symptoms, but these usually subside after a day or two. People are encouraged to receive their vaccines at least 10 days before traveling. This lengthy amount of time allows the body to immunize itself. These vaccinations are only available to citizens at yellow vaccination centers. Also, whenever in an area where yellow fever is often spread, everyone is advised to prevent mosquito bites. It is recommended to not go outside when mosquitoes are most active, during the evening usually. Mosquito repellent is highly recommended. [6]


A patient in Sudan receiving treatment for yellow fever.

Almost all of the cases of yellow fever around the world occur on the coast of Africa. Yellow fever clearly occurs in more tropical regions of the world near the water. The fever has recently broken out more dramatically again in the 1980s. Even with the extreme mass of yellow fever carrying mosquitoes, vaccine coverage is not as wide-spread in these countries as it should be. In South America, immunization seems to be more of a priority. Because of this, South America does not have as many outbreaks as Africa. The last dangerous epidemic in South America was in the 1950s when cases spread from Peru to Bolivia and many other countries. Travelers who are not vaccinated also commonly get yellow fever. These travelers are usually from places like the United States where yellow fever is not common. In these types of cases, the fever usually causes death. [7]


An overview of the symptoms of yellow fever.

Viral Diseases


  1. Frierson, Gordon. The Yellow Fever Vaccine: A History National Institutes of Health. Web. June 2010 (Date-Published).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Busowski, Mary. Yellow Fever Medscape. Web. 14 October 2014 (Date-Accessed).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Yellow fever fact sheet WHO. Web. March 2014 (Date-Published).
  4. Yellow Fever Web. 14 October 2014 (Date-Accessed).
  5. Busowski, Mary. Yellow Fever Treatment & Management. Medscape. Web. 2 May 2014 (Date-Published).
  6. Yellow fever. Bupa. Web. 24 October 2014 (Date-Accessed).
  7. Barnett, Elizabeth. Yellow Fever: Epidemiology and Prevention. Oxford Journals. Web. 24 October 2014 (Date-Accessed).