Overview

Yellow fever
Yellow fever

Yellow fever is a serious infection spread by mosquitoes. It's found in parts of Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

There's a vaccine that can stop you getting it if you're travelling to an area where the infection is found.

Yellow fever vaccination

The yellow fever vaccine is recommended if you're travelling to:

  • an area where yellow fever is found
  • a country that requires you to have a certificate proving you've been vaccinated against yellow fever

You need to have the vaccine at least 10 days before travelling to give it enough time to work. Your certificate will only be valid after this time.

If you or your child has had the MMR vaccine, you or they ideally need to wait at least 4 weeks before having the yellow fever vaccine.

The vaccine and certificate are only available from registered yellow fever vaccination centres. 

The jab iis not available for free on the NHS so you'll have to pay for it.  It typically costs around £60 to £85.

The vaccine provides lifelong protection for most travellers, so you will not normally need a booster dose.

Where yellow fever is found

Yellow fever is found in:

  • most of sub-Saharan Africa (the area below the Sahara desert)
  • most of South America
  • parts of Central America
  • Trinidad (in the Caribbean)

It is not found in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand or the Pacific Islands.

To find out if yellow fever is a risk where you're travelling to or if the country you're visiting requires a vaccination certificate, see:

  • Travel Health Pro: country information - click on the vaccine recommendation tab for your destination
  • Travel Health Pro: maps of where yellow fever vaccine is recommended

How yellow fever is spread

Yellow fever is a virus spread by mosquito bites. You can't get it from close contact with someone who has it.

The mosquitoes that spread the infection are found in towns, cities and rural areas. They mainly bite during the day.

Mosquitoes can also spread other serious illnesses, such as malaria and dengue.

If you're travelling to an area where yellow fever is found, try to avoid being bitten, even if you have been vaccinated.

You can do this by using mosquito nets, wearing clothes that cover your arms and legs, and using insect repellent containing 30% to 50% DEET (diethyltoluamide).

Symptoms of yellow fever

The first symptoms of yellow fever usually develop 3 to 6 days after being infected.

They include:

  • a high temperature
  • a headache
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • muscle pain and backache 
  • your eyes being sensitive to light
  • loss of appetite and feeling generally unwell

Up to 1 in 4 people go on to get more serious symptoms, such as:

  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes or ears
  • vomiting blood or blood in poo

When to get medical help

See a doctor straight away if you get symptoms of yellow fever while travelling in an area where the infection is found.

If you get symptoms after recently returning from one of these areas, contact a GP or NHS 111 Wales (if available in your area) or 0845 46 47 for advice as soon as possible.

Tell them exactly where you have been travelling, whether you think you have been bitten by a mosquito, and what symptoms you have.

You may need to have a blood test to check for the infection.

Treatments for yellow fever

There's no cure for yellow fever, but the symptoms can be treated while your body fights off the infection.

Most people make a full recovery after 3 or 4 days.

However, up to half of those who have the more serious symptoms of yellow fever will die.

Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help lower your temperature and relieve aches or pains in the meantime. 

Also drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

If you have more serious symptoms, you may need to go into hospital for close monitoring and treatment of your symptoms until you're feeling better.

Vaccine

There's a very effective vaccine that can stop you getting yellow fever if you're travelling to an area where the infection is found.

It's given as an injection into your upper arm.

But even if you have been vaccinated, it's important to prevent insect bites as mosquitoes can also spread other serious illnesses.

Who should have the yellow fever vaccine

The yellow fever vaccine is recommended for people from 9 months of age who are travelling to:

  • an area where yellow fever is found – including parts of sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Central America and Trinidad in the Caribbean
  • a country that requires you to have a certificate proving you've been vaccinated against yellow fever

You should be vaccinated at least 10 days before you travel to allow enough time for the vaccine to work.

If you or your child has had the MMR vaccine, you or they need to wait at least 4 weeks before having the yellow fever vaccine.

If it is not possible to leave a 4-week gap, the yellow fever vaccine should be given but an additional dose of MMR should be considered at a later date. Re-vaccination with the yellow fever vaccine can also be considered on an individual basis for those at on-going risk.

Yellow fever vaccination certificate

Some countries require a certificate showing you've been vaccinated before you're allowed entry.

This is known as an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP).

All vaccination certificates are now valid for life, including older ones with an expiry date of them. You'll be given a certificate when you're vaccinated at a yellow fever vaccination centre.

Check the country information on the TravelHealthPro website or with a yellow fever vaccination centre to see if you need a certificate for the area you're visiting.

A certificate is not needed for entry into the UK.

Keep your certificate safe and make a copy for your records.

If you lose your certificate, you may be able to get another one reissued if you have details of the vaccination batch number and the date you had the vaccination.

Where to get the yellow fever vaccine

The yellow fever vaccine and vaccination certificates are only available from registered yellow fever vaccination centres.

Find a yellow fever vaccination centre near you.

How much the yellow fever vaccine costs

The yellow fever vaccine is not available for free on the NHS, so you'll have to pay for it.

It typically costs around £60 to £85.

How long the yellow fever vaccine lasts

The yellow fever vaccine provides lifelong protection for most people.

A further dose of vaccine is recommended for a small number of travellers who are visiting yellow fever risk areas, including those who were previously vaccinated when they were:

  • pregnant
  • under 2 years old
  • living with HIV
  • had a weakened immune system
  • before having a bone marrow transplant

Rarely, a further dose of vaccine may also be advised if there's a concern about the traveller's risk of yellow fever, for example, if they're working or living for some time in a high-risk area.

Contact a yellow fever vaccination centre for advice if you're not sure if you need another dose before travelling.

Who cannot have the yellow fever vaccine

There are some people who cannot have the yellow fever vaccine when it's recommended.

People who cannot have the vaccine include:

  • babies under 6 months old
  • people with a weakened immune system, such as those with leukaemia or lymphoma
  • people whose immune system is weakened by treatment, such as steroids and chemotherapy
  • people who are allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, including people with an egg allergy
  • people who've had a severe reaction to a previous dose of yellow fever vaccine
  • people with a thymus gland disorder or who've had their thymus gland removed
  • people over the age of 60 who are travelling to areas where yellow fever vaccine is not generally recommended
  • people who have a close relative who has had a severe reaction to the vaccine causing damage to the brain or other organs

If you need a vaccination certificate for the country you're visiting but you're not able to have the vaccine, contact a yellow fever vaccination centre.

They may provide you with an exemption letter, which may be accepted by officials in countries that usually require a vaccination certificate.

Who may be able to have the vaccine in some circumstances

If you're not sure whether you can have the yellow fever vaccine, ask a travel health specialist at the vaccination centre. They'll do a full risk assessment based on your or your child's medical history and where you're travelling to.

People who may be able to have the vaccine include:

  • those aged 60 and over – only when travel to a high-risk area is unavoidable
  • those who are pregnant – if travel to a high-risk area is unavoidable
  • those who are breastfeeding – expert advice is needed for women who are breastfeeding babies under 9 months
  • those with long-term (chronic) inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis – if on low-dose steroid therapy
  • babies from 6 months to under 9 months of age – if travel is unavoidable and risk is high, expert advice is needed
  • those living with HIV – only after specialist advice

Take extra care to prevent insect bites while travelling if you have not been vaccinated.

Side effects of the yellow fever vaccine

The yellow fever vaccine can cause some side effects, but the risk of not being vaccinated usually outweighs the risk of having side effects.

After having the vaccine, up to 1 in every 3 people gets:

  • a headache
  • muscle pain
  • a raised temperature
  • soreness at the injection site

These side effects usually pass within 2 weeks.

Rarely, a person can get more serious side effects, including an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients in the vaccine.

A very rare side effect of the vaccine can cause problems with the brain or other organs, which can be fatal. This is more likely to affect:

  • people aged 60 or older
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • anyone who's had their thymus gland removed or has a thymus gland disorder

Get medical advice if you feel very unwell within a few days or weeks of having the yellow fever vaccine.



The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website nhs.uk
Last Updated: 07/05/2021 13:34:02