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Viral haemorrhagic fevers

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Viral haemorrhagic fevers are a group of illnesses caused by viruses that can cause bleeding and fever, and can sometimes cause death.
  • Dengue fever is the only viral haemorrhagic fever known to occur in Australia.
  • You can catch these viruses if you travel to a high-risk area and have contact with infected animals or insects.
  • You will need to be in isolation or quarantine if you have one of these viruses to prevent spread of the virus to others.
  • Contact your doctor if you have a fever and have travelled to a high-risk area in the past 3 weeks.

What are viral haemorrhagic fevers?

Viral haemorrhagic fevers are a group of rare but potentially life-threatening illnesses. They are caused by different viruses that can cause bleeding and fever.

These illnesses include:

Each of these illnesses occurs in a particular area of the world, or in several areas. Dengue fever is the only viral haemorrhagic fever known to occur in Australia.

What are the symptoms of viral haemorrhagic fevers?

The first symptoms to develop may include:

Some people get better after this stage. In other cases, the disease progresses to cause bleeding from various parts of the body. Severe blood loss can cause other complications including organ failure and death.

If you develop bleeding problems, you might:

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How do viral haemorrhagic fevers spread?

You can catch one of these viruses from infected animals or insects if you travel to an area where the virus occurs. Some viruses are spread by mosquito or tick bites. Others can be spread by contact with rat faeces (poo) or urine.

Some of these viruses can also spread through contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person.

When should I see my doctor?

Contact your doctor if you have a fever and you have returned from a high-risk area within the past 3 weeks. You will probably need to go to hospital.

You should also go to hospital if you are bleeding or feel unwell, and you have had contact with someone who has viral haemorrhagic fever.

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ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How are viral haemorrhagic fevers diagnosed?

The specific virus can be detected with a nose or throat swab, blood test or urine sample. Testing must take place in a high security laboratory.

Diseases that cause viral haemorrhagic fevers are notifiable diseases. This means that your doctor must tell the Department of Health if you’re diagnosed. The Department needs to monitor and track all cases of in order to find outbreaks and improve healthcare responses.

According to Australian law, anyone with the following illnesses must be in quarantine:

  • Ebola virus disease
  • Marburg virus disease
  • Lassa fever
  • Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever

How are viral haemorrhagic fevers treated?

You will be cared for in isolation in hospital. You will receive fluids to keep you hydrated and medicines to control your symptoms. Depending on the type of virus you have, you may receive an anti-viral medicine called ribavirin.

Can viral haemorrhagic fevers be prevented?

There are no vaccines available for most of these viruses. Vaccines for Ebola virus are not available for the general public. However, there is a vaccine for yellow fever, which is recommended — and sometimes required — if you are travelling to a country where yellow fever occurs. Find out more about yellow fever vaccination.

To avoid catching one of these viruses, take the following precautions if you are travelling to a high-risk area:

If you have one of these viruses, you can avoid spreading it to others by:

  • staying in isolation until you are no longer contagious
  • using a condom when having sex after you recover, until your doctor tells you it’s safe to stop

Resources and support

If you are planning to travel overseas, visit Smartraveller to find out about risks at your destination and how to stay safe.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2022

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