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.

The vaccine and certificate are only available from registered yellow fever vaccination centres. The jab isn't usually given for free on the NHS and typically costs around £60-80.

The vaccine provides lifelong protection, so you won't normally need a booster dose or a new certificate if you've been vaccinated before.

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
  • parts of the Caribbean

It isn't found in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand or the Pacific Islands.

Some countries near to areas where yellow fever is found may require a proof of vaccination certificate when visiting, even if there's no risk of picking up the infection in these countries.

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:

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 and rural areas. They mainly bite during the day.

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

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

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.

Symptoms of yellow fever

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

They include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • a headache
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • muscle pain and backache 
  • your eyes being sensitive to light
  • loss of appetite and feeling generally unwell

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

A few people go on to get more serious symptoms, such as:

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

Up to half of those who get these symptoms die.

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 your 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've been travelling, if you think you've 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 three or four days.

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.

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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've 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 nine months of age who are travelling to:

  • an area where yellow fever is found – including most of sub-Saharan Africa, most of South America, and parts of Central America and 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.

Some people might not be able to have the vaccine because there's a risk it could make them unwell.

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).

You'll be given a certificate when you're vaccinated at a yellow fever vaccination centre.

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

A certificate isn't required for entry into the UK.

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 isn't usually available for free on the NHS, so you'll normally have to pay for it.

It typically costs around £60-80.

How long the yellow fever vaccine lasts

The yellow fever vaccine provides lifelong protection for most people.

All vaccination certificates are now valid for life, including older ones with an expiry date on them.

Booster doses are usually only recommended if all the following apply:

  • you're travelling to an area where yellow fever is found
  • you were last vaccinated more than 10 years ago
  • when you were last vaccinated, you were under two years old, pregnant, or had a weakened immune system – for example, because of HIV or preparation for a bone marrow transplant

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

Who can't have the yellow fever vaccine

The yellow fever vaccine is not always recommended for some people, including:

  • babies under 9 months of age – babies who are 6 to 9 months old may sometimes be vaccinated if the risk of getting yellow fever is high
  • pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • people over the age of 60
  • people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV
  • people who are allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, including people with an egg allergy
  • people with a disorder of their thymus gland

Contact a yellow fever vaccination centre for advice if you need a vaccination certificate for the country you're visiting but you're not sure if you can have the vaccine.

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

Take extra care to prevent insect bites while travelling if you haven't 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 one in every three people gets:

  • a headache
  • muscle pain
  • a mild fever
  • soreness at the injection site

These side effects usually pass within two weeks.

There are also some more serious but very rare side effects that can occur, including an allergic reaction and problems affecting the brain or organs.

These occur less than 10 times for every million doses of vaccine given.

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

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website nhs.uk
Last Updated: 06/05/2020 12:50:17