Leading UK cancer expert dies suddenly after yellow fever jab

Professor Martin Gore
Professor Martin Gore Photo credit: Royal Marsden Hospital

Dr Martin Gore was with the Royal Marsden Hospital; died after routine yellow fever vaccination

Professor Martin Gore, 67, one of the leading cancer experts of United Kingdom died suddenly after routine yellow fever vaccination, the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said.

Gore was professor of cancer medicine at the Institute of Cancer Research and a consultant at the Marsden.

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a serious viral infection caused by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. These mosquitoes thrive near human habitations where they breed even in clean water. Most outbreaks of yellow fever occur in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

Gore’s death casts light on the heightened risk associated with the yellow fever vaccine especially in people over 60 years of age.

What are the symptoms of yellow fever ?

In mild cases, symptoms include fever, headache, muscle ache, nausea, vomiting and jaundice or yellowish discolouration of the skin and whites of the eye – hence the name yellow fever.

Symptoms of yellow fever usually begin three to six days after a bite and last about three or four days.

But in some 15-20% of cases, yellow fever can become more serious, causing liver, kidney and heart problems along with bleeding. Up to 50% of people with the more-severe form of yellow fever die of the disease.

Is yellow fever curable?

There is no specific cure for yellow fever and vaccination 10 days prior to travelling to an endemic country is the only way to protect someone from this serious disease.

According to WHO, yellow fever is endemic in tropical areas of 47 countries in Africa and Central and South America.

Typical side effects of the vaccine include headaches, muscle pain, mild fever and soreness at the injection site but in rare cases fatal complications with multiorgan failure have been reported.

How safe is the vaccine?

The vaccine is very safe and serious side effects have a greater risk of developing in the over-60s and in very young infants. The risk of developing vaccine-associated fatal complication increase to around 12 cases per million vaccinations, up from three cases per million in the under-60 age group.

According to CDC, yellow fever vaccine is recommended for people who are 9 months old or older and who are traveling to or living in areas at risk for yellow fever virus in Africa and South America.

For most people, a single dose of yellow fever vaccine provides long-lasting protection. However, travelers going to areas with ongoing outbreaks may consider getting a booster dose of yellow fever vaccine if it has been 10 years or more since they were last vaccinated.

The yellow fever vaccine has been used worldover for many decades and is extremely effective in protection against this infection and overall complication rates are very low. CDC advises risk-benefit analysis should be done by a healthcare provider before yellow fever vaccination in certain special groups which include infants between 6 to 8 months old, people over 60 years of age and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Can the vaccine be given to everyone?

Yellow fever vaccine should not be administered to people  who are allergic to a vaccine component (like eggs), aged 6 months or younger, organ transplant recipients, people with a malignant tumor, thymus disorder associated with abnormal immune function or a primary immunodeficiency, persons using immunosuppressive and immunomodulatory therapies and people showing symptoms of HIV infection or CD4+ T-lymphocytes less than 200/mm3 (less than 15% of total lymphocytes in children aged less than 6 years).