Rare and Deadly Diseases: Hemorrhagic Fevers

Hemorrhagic Fevers

His eyes are the color of rubies, and his face is an expressionless mass of bruises. The red spots, which a few days before had started out as starlike speckles, have expanded and merged into huge, spontaneous purple shadows: His whole head is turning black-and-blue. The muscles of his face droop. The connective tissue in his face is dissolving, and his face appears to hang from the underlying bone, as if the face is detaching itself from the skull. He opens his mouth and gasps into the bag, and the vomiting goes on endlessly. It will not stop, and he keeps bringing up liquid, long after his stomach should have been empty ….

So goes Richard Preston's description of an Ebola sufferer in his account of the Ebola outbreaks in Zaire, The Hot Zone. Ebola is a hemorrhagic disease or fever, meaning it is characterized by bleeding. Other hemorrhagic diseases include Marburg and hantavirus (discussed later in this section).

Disease Diction

A hemorrhagic fever is one characterized by severe bleeding, often from the mouth, stomach, and digestive tract. The term comes from the Greek Haima meaning blood and rhegnynai meaning to burst forth.

These diseases are very contagious and are passed through contact with the blood or body fluids of someone who is infected, or by touching a contaminated surface. Fortunately, neither Ebola nor Marburg have been seen in the United States yet.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dangerous Diseases and Epidemics © 2002 by David Perlin, Ph.D., and Ann Cohen. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.