Yellow fever is a serious viral infection that is spread by certain types of mosquito. It’s mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa, South America and parts of the Caribbean.
The condition can be prevented with a vaccination and is a very rare cause of illness in travellers.
Between 1999 and 2018, there were 12 cases of yellow fever reported among European travellers. None of these travellers were vaccinated, 5 of these cases occurred in 2018.
If you’re planning to visit places where yellow fever infection is found, you should seek travel health advice before you travel. A map and list of countries where yellow fever is found is available on the NHS Fit for Travel website.
How yellow fever is spread
The virus that causes yellow fever is passed to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. The mosquitoes that spread the infection are usually active and bite during daylight hours, and are found in both urban and rural areas.
Yellow fever can’t be passed directly from person to person through close contact.
Yellow fever symptoms
The symptoms of yellow fever occur in 2 stages. The initial symptoms develop 3 to 6 days after infection, and can include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- a headache
- nausea or vomiting
- muscle pain, including backache
- loss of appetite
This stage will usually pass after 3 to 4 days and most people will make a full recovery.
However, around 15% of people go on to develop more serious problems, including jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), kidney failure and bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes or stomach (causing blood in your vomit and stools).
Up to half of those who experience these symptoms will die.
When to seek medical advice
You should see a doctor as soon as possible if you develop symptoms of yellow fever and are currently travelling in an area where the virus is found, or have recently returned from one of these areas.
To help determine whether you have yellow fever, the doctor will want to know exactly where you have been travelling and what symptoms you have. A blood test will be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Treating yellow fever
There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, but you will be monitored and the symptoms can be treated.
You will be admitted to hospital for assessment and supportive care.
Yellow fever vaccination
The yellow fever vaccine protects you from infection when you travel to a country where yellow fever virus occurs and prevents the disease from spreading between countries.
After you have received the vaccine you are given a yellow fever vaccine certificate to prove that you have received the vaccine and are protected from infection. This certificate is designed to fit inside your passport and is valid for life.
The countries that require proof of vaccination are those where either the disease occurs, or where it could occur because they have the correct mosquito and monkey species that could harbour the infection.
More about the yellow fever vaccine
Find your nearest yellow fever vaccination centre
Information about you
If you have yellow fever, your clinical team will pass information about you on to the National Congenital Anomaly and Rare Diseases Registration Service (NCARDRS).
This helps scientists look for better ways to prevent and treat this condition. You can opt out of the register at any time.
Find out more about the register.