You've Got What?
How infectious diseases are spread and simple and practical advice for preventing the spread of infection in the home and community
Viral haemorrhagic fevers (VHFs) are a group of potentially life threatening infections which are associated with fever and bleeding.
VHFs are caused by a number of different viruses. Although there are many others, below are some examples of VHFs:
Some VHFs have a wide geographic distribution (for example, Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever which occurs in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa), whereas others are localised (for example, Venezuelan haemorrhagic fever).
Most VHFs are very uncommon, even in the geographical areas where they occur.
Dengue haemorrhagic fever is the only VHF known to occur in Australia.
Viral haemorrhagic fevers disease is a notifiable condition1
Many VHF viruses cycle naturally amongst wild animals, such as bats, rodents (for example rats and mice), shrews, moles and monkeys, with spread between animals either directly or by biting insects. The viruses only make occasional breakthroughs into the human population.
Infection in humans can occur through:
Some VHFs have been shown to be transmitted from person to person via contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person (living or deceased) or contact with an area contaminated with blood or body fluids of an infected person. These are:
Ebola virus disease and Lassa fever also can be transmitted sexually.
Lassa fever can be transmitted by breathing in infectious airborne droplets.
Initial symptoms are flu-like and may include:
Some people recover from this initial stage of illness whereas others go on to develop bleeding problems, multi-organ failure and death. Bleeding problems may include bleeding from the nose or gums, vomiting or coughing blood, bruising, and internal bleeding.
Many people infected with Lassa fever have mild or no symptoms.
The death rate of VHF depends on the cause. For Lassa fever it is around 1-15% in hospitalised people, whereas it is 50-90% in outbreaks of Ebola virus disease.
Cases are diagnosed with a blood test, either PCR or serology or both, depending on the virus.
Testing is done in a public health laboratory with special biosafety features, and appropriate safety procedures are followed during the collection and transport of specimens.
(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)
The incubation period depends on the type of virus.
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
Community person to person spread only occurs with some VHFs.
In most cases, people will need to go to hospital.
Ribavirin, an anti-viral medication, may be useful for treatment of some VHFs.
People with bleeding or flu-like symptoms who have been in contact with someone with VHF should go to a hospital to get treatment and avoid spreading the disease to others.
1 – In South Australia the law requires doctors and laboratories to report some infections or diseases to SA Health. These infections or diseases are commonly referred to as 'notifiable conditions'.