Brazilian Hemorrhagic Fever: learn more about the disease

On January 20, the Ministry of Health reported on the confirmation of a case of Brazilian hemorrhagic fever , caused by a virus called arenavirus.

The disease has already been registered in Brazil, and affected only 4 people, but it had not been registered for more than 20 years. Although health authorities report that transmission is limited and that, in general, there is no cause for concern, the infection is serious and has a high lethality rate.

Find out more about Brazilian arenavirus hemorrhagic fever:

What is Brazilian hemorrhagic fever?

According to the Ministry of Health, hemorrhagic fevers are present all over the world. There are 6 types of the disease, the arenavirus being one of them and includes hemorrhagic fevers from the Junin, Machupo, Guanarito and Sabiá viruses (in South America) and the Lassa virus (in Africa).

Brazilian hemorrhagic fever is a disease resulting from infection by Mammarenavirus (or Sabiá), of the arenavirus family. The infectious agent is usually present in wild environments and can circulate between animals.

In humans, the occurrence is extremely rare, and in Brazil only 4 cases were registered, the last one more than 20 years ago. Despite this, a recent case was reported in the interior of São Paulo.

The infection occurs accidentally, when people inhale small particles formed from the urine, feces and saliva of infected animals. Or, it is possible that people who have spent a lot of time in direct contact with infected patients may be infected as well.

Among the manifestations, patients with the infection usually present with fever, jaundice and heavy bleeding. The disease is serious because, according to the Ministry of Health, the hemorrhagic febrile condition has a rapid evolution, which can lead to death.

What is arenavirus?

The Mammarenavirus or Sabia viruses, is a genus belonging to the family arena viruses. That is, it is as if the viruses were classified into groups, according to their characteristics, and in addition each group can have several genera.

This viral agent is found, in general, in wild environments and circulates among mammals, especially rodents.

The incidence of infection in humans is quite rare, and before 2020 the last recorded case was more than 20 years ago. In addition, there are only 4 infection records in the entire national history.

Transmission: how does the virus infect humans?

According to the Ministry of Health, arenavirus can affect people in 2 ways. The first is through the inhalation of small particles released from the urine, feces and saliva of infected animals.

When in contact or breathing close to these secretions, people inhale the particles that contain the virus.

Another form of contagion is through contact with people already infected. However, the Ministry of Health points out that the exposure time has to be prolonged, occurring mainly in hospital environments.

Therefore, the latter form of transmission is more common in the medical or research team, as there is greater contact and exposure to secretions or urine, feces, blood, saliva or vomiting.

What are the symptoms of Brazilian hemorrhagic fever?

After infection, the virus undergoes an incubation period, which can last from 5 to 21 days. This means that it is present in the body, but does not yet trigger reactions or symptoms. After that time, the symptomatic picture begins, which mainly involves:

  • Fever;
  • Discomfort;
  • Body pain;
  • Red spots;
  • Sore throat;
  • Stomachache;
  • Pain behind the eyes;
  • Headache ;
  • Intestinal changes, such as constipation ;
  • Bleeding from mucous membranes, such as mouth and nose.

The disease progresses quickly and severely, and can lead to neurological impairment. In such cases, symptoms such as drowsiness, mental confusion and even seizures appear , which can lead patients to death.

Do you have treatment?

Treatment for arenavirus infection consists of controlling and relieving symptoms. There is, therefore, no specific medication for the condition.

However, it is believed that the drug Ribavirin used to treat Lassa fever , a type of hemorrhagic fever caused by other types of viruses, may be effective.

How to prevent arenavirus infection?

To prevent and reduce the risk of contagion, the Ministry of Health advises that people avoid contact with wild rodents, both in wild and rural areas.

In addition, as contagion can occur through the inhalation of particles released from animal secretions, it is advisable to avoid sitting on the floor and breathing in environments that indicate the presence of animals (such as sheds or shelters), especially if there is animal feces and urine.

If contact with wild animals has occurred or there is a suspicion of Brazilian hemorrhagic fever, the advice is always to seek medical help by going directly to the health units, informing them about the possibility of infection.

In such cases, the local Health Surveillance Strategic Information Center (CIEVS) must be informed and measures for the diagnosis and correct management of the patient must be adopted.


The recent case of Brazilian hemorrhagic fever triggered the alert for infection with a type of arenavirus. The disease, which is quite rare, has not been reported for more than 20 years in Brazilian territory.

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