Sign In
Boston Public Health Commission Home

Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers

What are viral hemorrhagic fevers?

Viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF) refer to a group of illnesses that are caused by several different groups of viruses. While some types of hemorrhagic fever viruses cause relatively mild illness, many can cause severe, life-threatening disease.
Some viral hemorrhagic fevers include:

How are viral hemorrhagic fevers spread?

These viruses are most often found in animals or insects. The viruses spread to people when they come into direct contact with the infected animal/insect, or their urine, fecal matter, saliva, or other bodily fluids. Many of these viruses can also spread from person to person either by direct contact with the infected person, or their body fluids. In some cases, the disease can spread by breathing in droplets that have been coughed into the air.  Some VHF can be spread through contact with objects contaminated with infected body fluids.
Some VHF have the potential to be used as a bioterrorist agent because they spread through the air.

What are the symptoms?

Specific signs and symptoms vary by the type of VHF. However, initial signs and symptoms often include fever, fatigue, dizziness, muscle aches, loss of strength, and exhaustion. Patients with severe cases of VHF often show signs of bleeding under the skin, in internal organs, or from body orifices like the mouth, eyes, or ears. Although blood loss may occur in many sites around the body, patients rarely die as a result. Severely ill patients may also experience shock, nervous system malfunction, coma, delirium, and seizures. Some types of VHF are associated with renal (kidney) failure.

How long does it take for symptoms to appear?

The length of time it takes for symptoms to appear depends on the type of virus a person is exposed to.  It can be anywhere from 4 to 21 days.  However, with many of the viruses, symptoms will appear within 2 weeks. In Massachusetts, all cases of suspected VHF are required to be reported immediately to local health departments.

How are VHF treated?

Patients receive supportive therapy such as fluids and pain management, but in general, there is no other treatment for VHF. Antiviral drugs have been effective in treating some types of VHF but this is the exception not the rule.

Are there vaccines for VHF?

With the exception of yellow fever, no vaccines are available to protect against these diseases.


Boston Public Health Commission
1010 Massachusetts Ave, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02118.
Phone:(617) 534-5395 Email: