Yellow fever


Yellow fever is a serious viral infection that's usually spread by a type of mosquito known as the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It can be prevented with a vaccination.

Yellow fever mainly occurs in sub-Saharan Africa (countries to the south of the Sahara desert), South America and in parts of the Caribbean.

There have not been any recent cases of yellow fever in North America, Europe or Asia. Since 1996, six travellers from Europe and North America have died from the infection. None of them were vaccinated. 

Find out more about the risk areas for yellow fever.

Yellow fever can be fatal. About eight people out of 100 who get yellow fever die from it.

Yellow fever symptoms

Typical symptoms of yellow fever include:

  • high temperature (fever)
  • headache 
  • nausea and vomiting
  • muscle pain, including backache
  • jaundice – yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes caused by liver damage

Find out more about the symptoms of yellow fever.

How yellow fever is spread

Yellow fever is a type of virus known as a flavivirus and is transmitted through mosquito bites. 

It can be spread from one host to another, usually between monkeys, or from monkeys to humans, or from person to person. 

The mosquitoes live and breed in jungle and urban areas.

Find out more about how yellow fever is transmitted.

Diagnosing yellow fever

Yellow fever is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms and a blood test.

It's difficult to diagnose yellow fever based on the symptoms alone because they are often similar to those of other conditions, such as malaria and typhoid fever.

Find out more about diagnosing yellow fever.

Treating yellow fever

There is no specific antiviral treatment for yellow fever, but the symptoms can be treated.

Headache, high temperature and muscle pain can be treated using painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. You should also drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

If your symptoms are severe, you may be admitted to hospital so that your condition can be monitored and you can receive supportive nursing care.

Find out more about treating yellow fever.

Yellow fever vaccination

There is a vaccination for yellow fever. Some countries require proof of vaccination (a certificate) against yellow fever before they let you enter the country.

You should have a yellow fever vaccination at least 10 days before your travel. This will allow enough time for your body to develop protection against the yellow fever infection.

The yellow fever vaccination is recommended for:

  • laboratory workers who handle infected material
  • anyone travelling to, or living in, areas or countries where yellow fever is a problem
  • anyone travelling to a country where an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) against yellow fever is required for entry

Find out more about the yellow fever vaccination.

Preventing mosquito bites

As well as getting the yellow fever vaccination before travelling, you should also take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes that carry yellow fever bite during daylight hours. Although it may not always be possible, you should try to:

  • avoid places where mosquitoes live, such as swamps, forests and jungles
  • choose air-conditioned accommodation
  • choose accommodation with mesh screening over the windows and doors
  • wear loose fitting, long-sleeved tops and trousers
  • use insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin
  • burn a mosquito coil or use a plug-in device that releases insecticide
Last updated: 08 January 2015

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