Yellow fever

Yellow fever derives its name from the yellow colour that it can give your skin, and is a serious infection spread by mosquitoes. Yellow fever symptoms can be mild and similar to the flu, such as headaches and feeling sick. Because of this, you may not even realize that you have the disease before serious symptoms appear, and the vaccine is therefore recommended.

Risk areas
Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean
Deaths a year
Infections a year
Related vaccines

01. Transmission of yellow fever

Yellow fever transmission occurs when you are bitten by a mosquito who is carrying the disease.

Yellow fever cannot be transmitted from person to person, so you will not get the disease if you are in close contact with someone who is infected.

If you are travelling to an area where there is a risk of yellow fever, it is recommended that you avoid mosquito bites in addition to having  the vaccine, especially if you are visiting a country where the majority of the population is not vaccinated.

You can avoid being bitten by mosquitoes in many ways, for example by using insect repellent containing 50% DEET, using mosquito nets and wearing loose clothing that cover your body.

02. Risk countries for yellow fever

Yellow fever is commonly found in tropical areas of Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. 

Popular destinations with the greatest risk of yellow fever include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. You can be infected with yellow fever in towns and cities, not just in rural areas such as rainforests.

Under special circumstances, some countries may require you to have proof of a vaccination certificate to travel there, such as Australia and China, but that does not mean you are at risk in these countries.

It is important to check each time you travel, if the country you are visiting has a yellow fever certificate requirement, as this can change.

Check if the country you are travelling to has a risk of yellow fever through the search bar below.

03. Symptoms of yellow fever

Yellow fever symptoms do not usually show straight away. It is common for signs to appear three to six days after you have caught the infection, but for some people, it could be weeks until they start to feel unwell. 

Mild yellow fever symptoms include:

  • fever

  • muscle pain with prominent backache 

  • headache 

  • loss of appetite 

  • feeling sick or being sick

  • light sensitivity

Most people who experience a mild yellow fever infection make a full recovery within three to four days.

However, for some people, these symptoms do not improve, or they experience a brief period where they start to feel better, before more serious symptoms develop. 

This occurs for 15% to 25% of people infected by the yellow fever virus. It is vital that anybody experiencing these symptoms seeks medical treatment immediately.

Serious yellow fever symptoms include:

  • developing a yellow colour to your skin and eyes 

  • dark urine

  • stomach pain

  • bleeding from the mouth, nose or eyes 

  • vomiting blood or blood in poo

  • organ failure

Half of the people who experience serious yellow fever symptoms have a high risk of death. 

04. Diagnosis of yellow fever

If you suspect you have been infected with yellow fever, it is important to seek help from a doctor as soon as possible. 

Tell your doctor that you have been bitten, and share your symptoms. They may do a blood or urine test to decide what treatment you need.

It can be difficult to diagnose yellow fever, as it can sometimes be mistaken for other diseases, such as malaria. Checking your skin regularly for bites and keeping track of  what symptoms you are experiencing and when each symptom began, can help your doctor to diagnose you more quickly and accurately. 

05. Treatment of yellow fever

There is no cure for yellow fever, but painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, can help manage symptoms such as fevers, aches and pains, while the body fights off the infection. 

Apart from painkillers, it is also very important to drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated.

If you are experiencing more serious yellow fever symptoms, you may need to receive treatment at the hospital, where you can be monitored.

06. Prevention of yellow fever

As mentioned, you cannot catch yellow fever from an infected person. The only way you can become infected by the disease, is from a mosquito bite. 

There are things you can do to limit your chances of being bitten, but it is impossible to guarantee that you will not be, if you are travelling in a yellow fever country. This is why a yellow fever vaccine may be recommended.

If you need to get vaccinated for yellow fever, you can book a vaccination appointment online today.

If you are unsure if the yellow fever vaccine is right for you, book a free telephone consultation to speak to one of our prescribing nurses who can advise you.

To limit your risk of becoming infected with yellow fever, you should:

  • check if you need the yellow fever vaccine, as you will need it at least 10 days before travelling

  • use mosquito nets

  • wear clothes that cover your arms and legs

  • use insect repellent containing 50% DEET

  • avoid camping near water, such as ponds and swamps

Related vaccines
Content reviewed by

Anne Marie Major, Independent Nurse Prescriber
01 July 2019