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Four Things to Know About the Yellow Fever Outbreak in Brazil

Yellow fever is a potentially fatal disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Though the disease can be treated, Brazil has experienced a number of deaths that have caused people to label the yellow fever outbreak that began in December of 2016 a state of emergency. Here are some important things to know about the yellow fever outbreak in Brazil:

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a virus transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It is rare and usually includes mild symptoms, such as fever, muscle and back pain, headaches, shivers, loss of appetite and nausea or vomiting. Most people can recover after being monitored in a hospital and treated with fluids and rest. However, 15 percent of victims can develop into a second stage with more severe symptoms, such as high fever, jaundice, bleeding and organ failure. Almost 20-50 percent of those patients die.

How many people has the virus infected?

According to the Pan American Health Organization, there have been at least 320 confirmed cases and at least 220 deaths. There are more cases undergoing investigation. While the number might not seem drastic compared to the overall population, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that this is the worst case of a yellow fever outbreak since 2000.

What caused the outbreak?

A Mosquito species called “Aedes aegypti,” which is the same mosquito that caused the Zika outbreak in Brazil between 2015-16, has been spreading to monkeys in the jungles, which then passed on to humans. According to zoologists, the virus has killed 600 monkeys in the Atlantic rain forest region, and rare primate species are facing a threat to their survival rate.

Since the start of the yellow fever outbreak, around 64 cities in Brazil have called for a state of emergency, including the state of Minas Gerais. The Ministry of Health assisted the state with investigations, vector control and coordination of health services. There have also been house immunization campaigns in rural areas.

How can we curb this outbreak?

Brazil can still survive this yellow fever outbreak in the same way it handled the Zika outbreak. Brazil’s Health Ministry ordered 11.5 million doses of the yellow fever vaccine, yet a shortage remains. While the vaccines can be effective, they are not routinely offered in major urban cities. However, millions of people have already been vaccinated, so there is hope the disease will not spread much outside of the country or into parts of the United States. The World Health Organization recommended that travelers be vaccinated for yellow fever.

While there are major concerns about the recent yellow fever outbreak in Brazil, if the Ministry of Health can make sure nearly everyone is vaccinated, perhaps the disease can be put under control.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr