A young woman travelling on a train, staring out of the window with her headphones on.

The yellow fever virus is found naturally in rainforest monkeys, and spreads via mosquito bites. While most people only experience mild symptoms, yellow fever can be fatal. Immunisation is mandatory if travelling to and from high risk areas.

Did you know?

  • Yellow fever is transmitted by mosquito bites.
  • It’s called yellow fever because those with serious infection will get yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).
  • About 15% of people who get yellow fever develop serious illness that can sometimes be fatal.1
A young woman traveler walking outdoors with her backpack and straw hat.

What is it?

Yellow fever is a disease caused by a virus found mostly in the tropical regions of Africa and Central and South America.

The virus occurs naturally in rainforest monkeys and is passed on to humans by bites from infected mosquitoes. It can then spread from an infected person to other people via mosquitoes.

While most people will only experience mild symptoms, yellow fever can result in serious illness and sometimes death.

Some countries request proof of immunisation if you have travelled through an infected area.

What are the symptoms?

Most infected people do not develop any symptoms or may only experience a mild illness. 

In people who do develop symptoms, theses take three to six days to develop after being bitten by an infected mosquito. These stage-one symptoms may include fever, muscle pain, severe headache, extreme exhaustion, chills, nausea and vomiting.

After three to four days of these initial symptoms, most people will get better. However, after one to two days of when the fever and symptoms appear to settle, there can be a second phase of illness with high fever, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes due to liver inflammation), internal bleeding and in some cases death. 

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following yellow fever infection. If you feel unwell while travelling or when you return home, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.

How is it spread?

Yellow fever is a viral disease spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. The virus can be spread from one infected person to another via mosquitoes just before the onset of fever and for three to five days afterwards.

Who is at risk?

You are at risk of infection if you travel to an area where yellow fever is present. In recent years, there has been an increase in outbreaks in the tropical regions of Africa and Central and South America.

Your risk of contracting yellow fever can be affected by:

  • the season of travel (higher risk during the wet season)
  • the regions visited (how common yellow fever is)
  • the length of stay
  • the amount of time spent outdoors
  • the type of measures taken to avoid mosquito bites.

Other people may be at risk of yellow fever infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Who should be vaccinated?

  • Travellers to regions where yellow fever exists are encouraged to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. This includes:

    • using mosquito repellents, coils and sprays day and night
    • sleeping under treated mosquito nets
    • wearing loose, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats.

    Australian health authorities recommend the yellow fever vaccine for all healthy travellers (aged nine months and over) visiting areas where there is a risk of yellow fever. Any travellers aged 12 months and older who arrive into Australia within six days of leaving a country where yellow fever occurs must have a valid certificate of immunisation. You must receive the vaccine at an immunisation centre approved by the relevant State or Territory health authority.

    Many other countries also require evidence of yellow fever immunisation prior to entry. Check the requirements of the countries you are visiting before you leave.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever. Infected people may require hospitalisation, where they will receive care to relieve symptoms and be closely observed.

Other treatment can include medication to relieve fever and pain, as well as rest and fluids.

To help prevent the spread of the virus, precautions should be taken to prevent mosquito bites in yellow fever patients during the first few days of illness.

Important information

It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss immunisation and travel health.

Some side effects may be experienced following immunisation. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

References

  1. Yellow Fever Travel Information | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/yellow-fever-information (accessed September 2018)

AUS/VAC/0100/18 Date of Approval: November 2018