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Yellow fever

Yellow fever is a viral infection spread by mosquitoes in some parts of the world that can be life-threatening.

People don’t get yellow fever in the UK - but it is possible to get home from holiday feeling fine and to develop symptoms later.

Yellow fever is not passed on directly from someone who has caught it from a mosquito.

Symptoms of yellow fever

There are 2 stages of yellow fever symptoms. The first ones usually begin 3-6 days after being infected. They include:

Most otherwise healthy people recover from this stage of the infection after 3-4 days.

However, for around 15% of people who get yellow fever, a second set of more serious symptoms will develop, including:

  • Jaundice, whites of the eyes and skin looking yellow
  • Kidney failure
  • Bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes or stomach
  • Blood in your vomit
  • Blood in poo.

Up to 6 in 10 infected people will die from yellow fever.

Diagnosis of yellow fever

Urgent medical advice should be sought for yellow fever symptoms.

A doctor will diagnose the condition based on the symptoms, travel history to yellow fever areas and a physical examination.

A blood test will be used to confirm the diagnosis.

Yellow fever treatment

Yellow fever does not have a specific medication or treatment to cure it. However, during recovery symptoms may be eased with:

People with severe symptoms of yellow fever will need to be admitted to hospital.

Where is yellow fever a concern?

Check with your travel agent or travel clinic for specific information about the risk of yellow fever in your destination. Generally, the risk is highest in parts of Africa below the Sahara, and Central and South America.

Yellow fever is spread by the Aedes aegypti type of mosquito - and this usually bites during daylight hours - from morning to dusk.

Yellow fever prevention

Vaccination is available from some GP practices and specialist travel centres in the UK to protect against yellow fever.

The vaccine may not be suitable for everyone, and the clinic will need to know about existing health conditions, allergies to vaccines and their ingredients, such as eggs - and whether you may be pregnant.

Some countries require visitors to prove they've had the yellow fever vaccination before they are allowed in. These certificates can be issued by the GP practice or specialist travel centre.

It also makes sense to avoid mosquito bites in the first place - as they can carry other infections. Also, vaccination may not be 100% effective.

Tips include:

  • Avoiding stagnant water where the mosquitos may be breeding
  • Covering up with loose clothing to avoid bites
  • Using appropriate bug repellent - and age-appropriate repellent for children. Although the mosquito bites tend to happen during the day, mosquitoes can carry other infections - so use an insecticide-treated mosquito net at night.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 12, 2016

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