Published: Sun, March 12, 2017
Health Care | By Jeffery Armstrong

U.S. health officials on edge after yellow fever outbreak in Brazil

U.S. health officials on edge after yellow fever outbreak in Brazil

Yellow fever could become the fifth mosquito-borne virus to hit the USA in recent years, experts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland warned.

Experts fear spread of the disease may resemble that of the Zika virus, which emerged in Brazil in 2015 and later spread to more than 60 countries including the USA, causing local outbreaks in Florida.

According to the Pan American Health Organization, there are 326 confirmed cases of yellow fever in Brazil with 916 suspected cases. A vaccine was developed in 1937 that is still in use today; it provides lifetime immunity in up to 99 percent of people who get it, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In an interview, Fauci said he considered it "unlikely" that an outbreak that has been confined to Brazil's forest communities would spread to that country's cities and catch fire.

"In an era of frequent worldwide travel, any marked increase in domestic cases in Brazil raises the possibility of travel-related cases and local transmission in regions where yellow fever is not endemic", Fauci and Paules wrote.

In an essay published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and colleague Dr. Catharine Paules said that a large outbreak of yellow fever in Brazil must be closely monitored. Although PANO confirmed 101 people in Brazil have died from yellow fever since December, officials are still reviewing 109 other deaths that may be connected to the virus.

The majority of these are found in São Paulo, Minas Gerais, and Espírito Santo.

"It's a public health heads-up".

The yellow fever outbreak comes as the Zika virus continues to affect countries throughout the Americas. These people are infected by jungle-dwelling mosquito species and may travel to the city and spread the virus.

Fauci said clinicians need to keep yellow fever on their radar in case they start seeing possible clusters of cases in areas where there are also Zika outbreaks, and also in possible travel-related cases.

"This isn't 'chicken little, the sky is falling, '" Dr. Fauci told the Washington Post.

Health authorities are no strangers to the dangers the yellow fever outbreak can bring.

A yellow fever outbreak in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 exhausted the world's emergency vaccine stockpile.

"The Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic of 1793, for example, killed approximately 10 percent of the city's population", Fauci and Paules noted.

The number of yellow fever cases reported so far in 2017 is higher than what Brazil normally experiences this time of year, the report said. The initial symptoms develop three to six days after infection and can include: high temperature, vomiting and muscle pain.

To prevent a similar occurrence during a future yellow fever outbreak in Brazil or elsewhere, the authors note that "early identification of cases and rapid implementation of public health management and prevention strategies, such as mosquito control and appropriate vaccination, are critical".

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