Dear Dr Ombeva
I’m concerned about my cousin whose eyes are yellow, his tummy is ever swollen and this condition has kept him out of school...could he be having yellow fever or what could be wrong with him?
Thank you for your question. First, I do not think your cousin has yellow fever virus. It is a notifiable disease and would have been picked up and isolated by the health workers. There are many other reasons why a child can develop yellowness.
Yellow fever on the other hand is a viral disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The “yellow” in the name refers to the jaundice that affects some patients. The mosquito spreads the virus between monkeys, from monkeys to humans, and also from humans to humans.
Once contracted, the yellow fever virus incubates in the human body for three to six days, followed by development of infection. Initially, this starts as fever, muscle pain, backache, headache, shivering, poor appetite, vomiting and nausea.
Majority of patients improve and their symptoms disappear after three to four days. Some patients progress to a more severe phase, with high fever, yellow eyes and mucus membranes (jaundice) and bleeding can occur from the eyes, mouth, nose, or gut, where blood appears in the vomit or faeces.
About a half of these die from the disease within two weeks. Kidney function deteriorates. There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, only supportive care to prevent and treat dehydration, respiratory problems, and temperature control. Some infections from bacteria may occur, and maybe treated with antibiotics.
Vaccination is the main measure for preventing yellow fever. The yellow fever vaccine, given to children after nine months is safe and provides effective immunity against yellow fever. A single dose of yellow fever vaccine is sufficient to confer steady sustained immunity and life-long protection against the disease.
- Dr Ombeva Malande is a paediatrics and child health expert