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Yellow Fever: Why Does A Restaurant Have The Name Of This Disease?

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A restaurant located in a Whole Foods store has the same name as a disease that can cause bleeding from the nose, mouth, and eyes and death. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Would you eat at the Rabies Restaurant? How about the Diarrhea Diner? Plague Pies? Hepatitis Hotcakes? Or maybe the Tuberculosis Tea House?

Well, if you think that naming a restaurant after a potentially deadly disease would be something that you would avoid like the plague, how about the owners who named their eatery chain Yellow Fever? They just opened a location at a Whole Foods in&nbsp;Long Beach, California, which prompted reactions on social media such as the following Tweets:

People are battling over social media about whether the term is racist. Some are saying that they are offended. Others are telling them that they are being too sensitive (gee, when has that ever happened before?)&nbsp;The New York Daily News quoted Yellow Fever co-owner Kathy Kim&nbsp;as saying, “To us, ‘Yellow Fever’ means we love all things Asian meaning food, culture, people. I don’t want to spend any time thinking about or refuting any negativity.”

Looks like a little science communications and more attention to what yellow fever really is are needed here. And coincidentally it is World Immunization Week. So away we go.

Last I checked the official scientific definition of yellow fever had nothing to do with loving all things Asian, whatever that means. (Asia is a very big continent.) Is that a bit like saying “to us, the Bubonic&nbsp;plague means we love all things European meaning food, culture, people”? In fact, scientifically and historically real yellow fever has little to do with Asia. It is a disease caused by a virus (a Flavivirus, which does not mean flavorful) that is transmitted to humans&nbsp;via the bite of the&nbsp;Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito that can also transmit Dengue and Zika. Not everyone infected by the virus ends up developing symptoms. And some may suffer only 3 to 4 days of fever, chills, severe headache, back pain, general body aches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. However, about 15% of those infected go on to have more severe forms of the disease. This can include having&nbsp;a&nbsp;high fever, jaundice (which can turn your skin yellowish, hence the name), bleeding, and multi-organ failure. Somewhere between 20 and 50% of those with severe disease die. There is a vaccine that can help prevent Yellow Fever but no real treatment once you are infected.

The history of yellow fever is quite extensive and does not really evoke the most positive of images (darn viruses and their negativity). As seen on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Yellow Fever timeline, the virus and disease have been around since 3000 B.C. The same timeline says that “yellow fever was imported into the western hemisphere on slave ships from West Africa.” (Darn slave ships and their negativity.) A number of Yellow Fever outbreaks and epidemics occurred in the United States during the subsequent&nbsp;three Centuries. For example, between the years 1839 and 1860, New Orleans suffered annual outbreaks, resulting in over 26,000 cases of yellow fever. In 1898, yellow fever impaired the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War to the point that “reportedly more soldiers died of the disease than in battle” in Cuba.

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A restaurant located in a Whole Foods store has the same name as a disease that can cause bleeding from the nose, mouth, and eyes and death. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Would you eat at the Rabies Restaurant? How about the Diarrhea Diner? Plague Pies? Hepatitis Hotcakes? Or maybe the Tuberculosis Tea House?

Well, if you think that naming a restaurant after a potentially deadly disease would be something that you would avoid like the plague, how about the owners who named their eatery chain Yellow Fever? They just opened a location at a Whole Foods in Long Beach, California, which prompted reactions on social media such as the following Tweets:

People are battling over social media about whether the term is racist. Some are saying that they are offended. Others are telling them that they are being too sensitive (gee, when has that ever happened before?) The New York Daily News quoted Yellow Fever co-owner Kathy Kim as saying, “To us, ‘Yellow Fever’ means we love all things Asian meaning food, culture, people. I don’t want to spend any time thinking about or refuting any negativity.”

Looks like a little science communications and more attention to what yellow fever really is are needed here. And coincidentally it is World Immunization Week. So away we go.

Last I checked the official scientific definition of yellow fever had nothing to do with loving all things Asian, whatever that means. (Asia is a very big continent.) Is that a bit like saying “to us, the Bubonic plague means we love all things European meaning food, culture, people”? In fact, scientifically and historically real yellow fever has little to do with Asia. It is a disease caused by a virus (a Flavivirus, which does not mean flavorful) that is transmitted to humans via the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the same mosquito that can also transmit Dengue and Zika. Not everyone infected by the virus ends up developing symptoms. And some may suffer only 3 to 4 days of fever, chills, severe headache, back pain, general body aches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. However, about 15% of those infected go on to have more severe forms of the disease. This can include having a high fever, jaundice (which can turn your skin yellowish, hence the name), bleeding, and multi-organ failure. Somewhere between 20 and 50% of those with severe disease die. There is a vaccine that can help prevent Yellow Fever but no real treatment once you are infected.

The history of yellow fever is quite extensive and does not really evoke the most positive of images (darn viruses and their negativity). As seen on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Yellow Fever timeline, the virus and disease have been around since 3000 B.C. The same timeline says that “yellow fever was imported into the western hemisphere on slave ships from West Africa.” (Darn slave ships and their negativity.) A number of Yellow Fever outbreaks and epidemics occurred in the United States during the subsequent three Centuries. For example, between the years 1839 and 1860, New Orleans suffered annual outbreaks, resulting in over 26,000 cases of yellow fever. In 1898, yellow fever impaired the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War to the point that “reportedly more soldiers died of the disease than in battle” in Cuba.

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