Preventing viral hemorrhagic fevers, especially in developing nations, presents enormous challenges. Many of the social, economic and ecological factors that contribute to the sudden appearance and spread of infectious diseases — war, displacement, destruction of habitat, lack of sanitation and proper medical care — are problems that have no easy solutions.

If you live in, work in or travel to areas where viral hemorrhagic fevers are common, take precautions to protect yourself from infection. This may include using appropriate protective barriers such as gloves, eye and face shields, and gowns when contact with blood or body fluids is expected. Precautions also may include careful handling, disinfection and disposal of laboratory specimens and waste.

Get vaccinated

The yellow fever vaccine is generally considered safe and effective, although in rare cases, serious side effects can occur. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the status of the countries you're visiting — some require certificates of vaccination for entry. The yellow fever vaccine isn't recommended for children under 9 months of age or for pregnant women, especially during the first trimester. Vaccines for several less common types of viral hemorrhagic fevers are currently in development.

Avoid mosquitoes and ticks

Do your best to avoid mosquitoes and ticks, especially when traveling in areas where there are outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic fevers. Wear light-colored long pants and long-sleeved shirts or, better yet, permethrin-coated clothing. Don't apply permethrin directly to the skin. Avoid unnecessary activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active and apply mosquito repellent with a 20 to 25 percent concentration of DEET to your skin and clothing. If you're staying in tented camps or local hotels, use bed nets and mosquito coils.

Guard against rodents

If you live in an area where there are outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic fevers, take these steps to prevent rodent infestations in your home:

  • Keep pet food covered and stored in rodent-proof containers.
  • Store trash in rodent-proof containers, and clean the containers often.
  • Dispose of garbage on a regular basis.
  • Make sure doors and windows have tightfitting screens.
  • Place woodpiles and stacks of bricks and other materials at least 100 feet from your house.
  • Mow your grass closely and keep brush trimmed to within 100 feet from your house.
Feb. 24, 2016
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  4. Grey MR, et al. Viral hemorrhagic fevers. In: The Bioterrorism Sourcebook. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2006. Accessed Dec. 18, 2015.
  5. Clean up rodent food sources and nesting sites. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed Dec. 18, 2015.