Yellow fever

This factsheet is for people who have yellow fever, or who would like information about it.

Yellow fever is a disease caused by a virus. It's passed on by mosquito bites. Yellow fever can cause serious illness and be life-threatening. It mainly occurs in tropical areas of Africa and South America.

Click on the tabs below for more information about yellow fever.

Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, January 2011.

About yellow fever

About yellow fever

About yellow fever

Yellow fever is spread by a bite from an infected mosquito. You're at risk of being infected with yellow fever if you live in, or travel to, places where there are infected mosquitoes. This includes tropical areas of Central and central West Africa, South America, Panama and Trinidad. Find out current information on risk of yellow fever in a specific country here (link: http://www.nathnac.org/ds/map_world.aspx)

Every year around 200,000 people worldwide are infected with yellow fever and around one in seven people who go to hospital with yellow fever die.

Causes of yellow fever

You can become infected with the yellow fever virus if you’re bitten by an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes pick up the virus from other people and monkeys that are already infected with the virus. They then pass the virus on to the next person they bite.

Because the infection is spread by certain species of biting mosquitoes, it can only be spread in countries where these mosquitoes live. The mosquitoes live and breed around houses or in the jungle.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Symptoms and diagnosis

Symptoms of yellow fever

The symptoms of yellow fever usually appear three to six days after you have been bitten by an infected mosquito. This time is called the incubation period. The symptoms usually come on suddenly and can include:

  • fever
  • shivers
  • headache
  • feeling sick and being sick
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle pain and aches
  • backache
These symptoms usually last for three to four days. After this, you should start to recover and your symptoms should gradually disappear.
However, within a day of feeling better, some people can relapse and become more seriously ill. The symptoms of this second phase of infection can include:

  • high fever
  • yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice) - this is how yellow fever gets its name
  • kidney failure - you may not be able to pass urine
  • abdominal (tummy) pain and being sick
  • blood in your vomit or faeces (stools)
  • bleeding from your mouth, nose or eyes
If you do relapse, yellow fever can be life-threatening.

Diagnosis of yellow fever

If you develop the symptoms of yellow fever and you are in or have recently visited an affected area, it's important to see a doctor straightaway. It’s important to tell the doctor that you have been to a place where there is yellow fever.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also do a blood test. This blood test will confirm whether or not you have yellow fever.

Yellow fever can be difficult to recognise, especially in the first few days. It can be easily confused with other diseases such as malaria, typhoid and dengue fever. It's important to get the right diagnosis so that you can get the best care.

Yellow fever is a notifiable disease. This means that if your doctor thinks you have yellow fever, by law he or she has to report it.

Treatment and prevention

Treatment and prevention

Treatment of yellow fever

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever. However, the symptoms of yellow fever can be treated. This will help you to feel more comfortable. If you become seriously ill with yellow fever, then you may need intensive care to help you recover.

The availability and use of different treatments may vary from country to country, Ask your doctor for advice on your treatment options.

If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

You should rest and drink enough fluids to prevent you from becoming dehydrated - usually six to eight glasses a day.

If you recover from yellow fever, you will be immune to the virus for the rest of your life.

Prevention of yellow fever

You can prevent yellow fever by being vaccinated against the disease and by protecting yourself from mosquito bites.


An effective vaccine is available for yellow fever. You need to have the vaccine at least 10 days before you travel to a country where there is yellow fever. This gives your body time to build up immunity to the disease. The vaccine can be given at the same time as any other vaccinations you may need. Some people have a fever after having the vaccine, which may be accompanied by some flu-like symptoms. However, these symptoms only last for a few days after the vaccination.

The vaccine is given as a single injection. Almost everyone who has the vaccine will become immune to yellow fever. The vaccine will give you protection for at least 10 years, possibly the rest of your life. However, if after 10 years you're still travelling or living in an area where there is yellow fever, you should have a booster vaccination.

You will be given an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) which becomes valid 10 days after your injection and will need updating every 10 years. You may be asked to show your ICVP before you're allowed to enter certain countries and when you travel from a country with yellow fever to one without it. This is to prevent yellow fever from spreading.

Protection from mosquito bites

Most mosquitoes are active between dusk and dawn, but the mosquitoes that spread the yellow fever virus are active during the daytime. This means that you may get bitten during the day. There are many things that you can do to protect yourself from mosquitoes and prevent getting bitten. Some of the main ones are listed below.

  • Don't go into areas where there are a lot of mosquitoes, especially at times when they are active.
  • Use an insect repellent that contains DEET and put it on any exposed areas of skin. Reapply it every few hours, particularly in hot and humid places where you’re sweating or after you have been swimming. Make sure you use insect repellent over any sunscreen. Don't spray it directly into your face, especially your lips or eyes.
  • Wear loose fitting clothes (mosquitoes can bite through tight clothes).
Even if you have had the yellow fever vaccination, it's important to protect yourself against mosquito bites.



Further information

World Health Organization: www.who.int

Yellow fever. National Travel Health Network and Centre. www.nathnac.org, published March 2010
Yellow fever. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published December 2009.
Yellow fever. Department of Health. www.dh.gov.uk, accessed 27 September 2010
Immunizations-travel vaccinations. Clinical Knowledge Summaries. www.cks.nhs.uk, published July 2007.
Insect and tick bite avoidance. National Travel Health Network and Centre. www.nathnac.org, published December 2010

This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. This content was compiled by Bupa based on clinical information and practice current as at the stated date of publication. Content is likely to reflect clinical practice in a particular geographical region (as indicated by the sources cited) – accordingly, it may not reflect clinical practice in the reader’s country of habitation. This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. Photos and videos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

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