Panic Grips City – Can a Yellow Fever Vaccination Save You?

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October 1793. Philadelphia, PA was a city under siege, gripped by panic and fear. A hot, humid summer gave way to an early autumn, and sickness swept The City Of Brotherly Love. It started with fever and chills, headaches and nausea. In its advanced stages, victims developed a yellow, jaundiced look as their kidneys failed. That gave the disease its name – yellow fever. Had a vaccination existed at the time many lives would have been saved.

People died in droves. George Washington and his cabinet fled Philadelphia in early September, fearful of the plague. He promised to return, but never came any closer than the suburb of Germantown. In fact, most of the rich and affluent fled the city, leaving only the poor and helpless behind.

Yellow fever is an acute viral disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. In the fall of 1793 a yellow fever epidemic killed nearly ten percent of the population of Philadelphia in one month.

Nine years later, a similar yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans would leave an indelible mark on American history. The vast majority of Napoleon’s army was wiped out and he was forced to sell his claims in the Southern United States at bargain basement prices. This sale, known as the Louisiana Purchase, doubled the size of the country’s land at the time.

The disease outbreaks don’t happen in the United States today, but they do in other parts of the world. In May, 2010 the outbreak in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, on the southern tip of Brazil, sicken dozens of people and killed nine.

Fortunately a safe, simple vaccine can prevent the disease. The Centers For Disease Control recommends a vaccination for people who are traveling to, or living in areas of South America and Africa where the infection is reported.

A yellow fever immunization is given as a single shot, and booster doses are given once every 10 years. You should be immunized against yellow fever at least ten days prior to traveling. There are very few reported side effects from vaccination, though individuals who are severely allergic to egg proteins may need skin testing to see if the yellow fever vaccine can be given safely. A few people have reported headache, muscle ache, low-grade fever, and/or soreness at the injection site following the vaccination. Injection site reactions occur within one-to-five days after immunization. Severe allergic reactions (shortness of breath, lip or tongue swelling, etc.) are extremely rare (one case per 130,000).

In addition to getting a vaccination, travelers should use common sense when traveling to any area where mosquitoes and other insects bites present a hazard: wear long pants, long sleeved shirts, and don’t forget the bug spray!


write by John Davis

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