Yellow fever also called yellow jack, black vomit or sometimes American Plague is an acute viral disease. As of 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that yellow fever causes 200,000 illnesses and 30,000 deaths every year in unvaccinated populations.
Yellow fever begins suddenly after an incubation period of three to five days. In mild cases only fever and headache may be present. The severe form of the disease commences with fever, chills, bleeding into the skin, rapid heartbeat, headache, back pains, and extreme prostration. Nausea, vomiting, and constipation are common.
Jaundice usually appears on the second or third day. After the third day the symptoms recede, only to return with increased severity in the final stage, during which there is a marked tendency to hemorrhage internally; the characteristic coffee ground vomits contains blood. The patient then lapses into delirium and coma, often followed by death. During epidemics the fatality rate was often as high as 85%. Although the disease still occurs, it is usually confined to sporadic outbreaks.
There is no true cure for yellow fever, therefore vaccination is important. Treatment is symptomatic and supportive only. Fluid replacement, fighting hypotension and transfusion of blood derivates is generally needed only in severe cases. In cases that result in acute renal failure, dialysis may be necessary. A fever victim needs to get a lot of rest, fresh air, and drink plenty of fluids.
In 2007, the World Community Grid launched a project where by computer modeling of the yellow fever virus (and related viruses) thousands of small molecules are screened for their potential anti-viral properties in fighting yellow fever. This is the first project to utilize computer simulations in seeking out medicines to directly attack the virus once a person is infected.
This is a distributed process project similar to SETI Home where the general public downloads the World Community Grid agent and the program (along with thousands of other users) screens thousands of molecules while their computer would be otherwise idle. If the user needs to use the computer the program sleeps.
Yellow fever is a significant cause of hemorrhagic illness in many African and South American countries despite existence of an effective vaccine. The yellow refers to the jaundice symptoms that affect some patients.
Yellow fever has been a source of several devastating epidemics. More than half of the army perished from the disease when the French soldiers were attacked by yellow fever during the 1802 Haitian Revolution.
Outbreaks followed by thousands of deaths occurred periodically in other Western Hemisphere locations until research, which included human volunteers (some of whom died), led to an understanding of the method of transmission to humans (primarily by mosquitoes and development of a vaccine and other preventative efforts in the early 20th century.
Human infection begins after deposition of viral particles through the skin in infected arthropod saliva. The mosquitoes involved are Aedes simpsaloni, A. africanus, and A. aegypti in Africa, the Haemagogus genus in South America, and the Sabethes genus in France.
In 1937, Max Theiler, working at the Rockefeller Foundation, developed a safe and highly efficacious vaccine for yellow fever that gives a ten-year or more immunity from the virus. The vaccine consists of a live, but attenuated, virus called 17D. The 17D vaccine has been used commercially since the 1950s.
The mechanisms of attenuation and immunogenicity for the 17D strain are not known. However, this vaccine is very safe, with few adverse reactions having been reported and millions of doses administered and highly effective with over 90% of vaccinees developing a measurable immune response after the first dose.
Although the vaccine is considered safe, there are risks involved. The majority of adverse reactions to the 17D vaccine result from allergic reaction to the eggs in which the vaccine is grown. Persons with a known egg allergy should discuss this with their physician prior to vaccination.
In addition, there is a small risk of neurologic disease and encephalitis, particularly in individuals with compromised immune systems and very young children. The 17D vaccine is contraindicated in infants, pregnant women, and anyone with a diminished immune capacity, including those taking immunosuppressant drugs.
In current research ribavirin treatment during the first five days after virus infection improved survival rates, reduced tissue damage in target organs (liver and spleen), prevented hepatocellular steatosis, and normalized alanine aminotransferase a liver damage marker levels.
The results of this study suggest that ribavirin may be effective in the early treatment of yellow fever, and that its mechanism of action in reducing liver pathology in yellow fever virus infection may be similar to that observed with ribavirin in the treatment of hepatitis C, a virus related to yellow fever.
Because ribavirin had failed to improve survival in a virulent primate (rhesus) model of yellow fever infection, it had been previously discounted as a possible therapy.