On this page

Yellow fever: Yellow fever vaccine

Swarm of mosquitoes
On this page

Yellow fever is a tropical illness that is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It is found in tropical areas of the world including parts of Africa, Central and South America, and Trinidad.

Read on to find out more about how yellow fever is contracted and its symptoms, as well as how the yellow fever vaccine works and its side effects.

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a virus that is contracted when someone is bitten by certain types of infected mosquitoes. It is a very rare cause of illness for travellers, and only twelve cases of yellow fever were reported by European travellers between 1999 and 2018. In all twelve cases, the travellers were not vaccinated.

How can you contract yellow fever?

Yellow fever is contracted from Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying the virus. This is why, when visiting endemic areas, many travellers will take additional precautions such as using insect repellent.

The mosquitoes bite an infected person or monkey, and the virus enters their bloodstream before settling in their salivary glands. When they then bite another human or monkey, they pass the virus into the host’s bloodstream.

Symptoms of yellow fever

Symptoms of yellow fever usually appear within 3-6 days of being infected and include:

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Backache
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea and/or sickness

A small number of people will develop severe symptoms of yellow fever and of those, approximately half will die. These include:

  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Stomach pain with vomiting
  • Liver and kidney function issues

How is yellow fever treated?

There is no cure for yellow fever. To prevent contracting yellow fever, you should get vaccinated before travelling, wear long-sleeved tops and full-length trousers when in endemic countries and carry insect repellent.

As there is no cure for yellow fever, it is important to look out for and recognise the symptoms of the virus so that these can be managed whilst your body fights the infection. Treatment for the symptoms of yellow fever includes taking painkillers and keeping hydrated. More serious symptoms may require hospital treatment.

Yellow fever vaccine

The yellow fever vaccine is a single dose injection administered in the upper arm that provides lifelong immunity. It is a live vaccine, which means it contains a weakened form of the virus. It triggers your immune response, allowing your body to memorise how to deal with the virus should it encounter it again.

In the UK, Stamaril®, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, is the generally used vaccine for yellow fever.

How long does the vaccine last?

For most people, a single dose of the vaccine is sufficient to protect against yellow fever for life. However, there are a small number of people who may be recommended a booster dose if they are visiting risk areas. These include those who:

  • Were pregnant when they had their first vaccine
  • Are under two years old
  • Are HIV positive
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Were vaccinated before a bone marrow transplant

Side effects of the yellow fever vaccine

Some people may experience side effects from the yellow fever vaccine, but these are usually minimal and outweigh the risk of not being vaccinated. Common side effects of the yellow fever vaccine that can affect up to 1 in 3 people include:

  • Soreness at the injection site
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • A temperature

You can take pain relief before your vaccination to help minimise side effects. You can also use it after you experience any of the above side effects.

The vaccine is not recommended for some people. The NHS states that the following people should not have the yellow fever vaccine:

  • Infants less than six months old
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • Pregnant women
  • People with severe allergies to egg protein
  • People who've had a severe reaction to a previous yellow fever vaccine
  • People with severe immunodeficiency due to symptomatic HIV/AIDS or other causes
  • People who have a thymus disorder
  • People who have a close relative who has had a severe reaction to the vaccine

Countries that have yellow fever

Most yellow fever cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Some countries for which yellow fever vaccination is currently recommended prior to travel include*: 

  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Congo
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Gabon
  • Ghana
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Mali
  • Niger
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Togo
  • Uganda

If you aren’t sure whether your travel destination is a yellow fever risk area, or whether you need a vaccination to travel, you can use our Travel Vaccination Checker.

Where can I get the yellow fever vaccine?

There are many different services you can use in the UK to get the required vaccinations before travelling. You need to receive the vaccine at least ten days before you travel to give it enough time to work.

If you or your child have recently had the MMR vaccine, you’ll need to wait at least 4 weeks before having the yellow fever vaccination.

You may be able to get your vaccination at your local GP practice, but they are not free on the NHS and typically cost between £60 to £85. Some pharmacies and independent clinics can also administer travel vaccinations.

Don’t forget to enter your holiday details into our vaccination checker for a travel health summary and recommended clinic.

Check what vaccines you need

Extra tips to prevent yellow fever

Even after getting a yellow fever vaccination, there are still some additional precautions you can take to best protect yourself from contracting the virus:

  • Use a high-strength insect repellent spray
  • Cover your body, especially your hands, head, arms, and legs to prevent bites
  • Use screens on windows and doors and a mosquito net over your bed
  • Avoid going outdoors during peak mosquito hours
  • Treat your clothing and travel gear with a mosquito repellent that contains permethrin
  • Record all travel dates and destinations so you can more accurately detect any symptoms once you get home

In summary, yellow fever is a virus contracted from infected mosquitoes. It is prominent in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas such as the Caribbean. There is no cure for yellow fever but there is a vaccine that can provide lifelong immunity. Should you contract yellow fever, the most common symptoms are fever, headaches, muscle pain, nausea, and sickness.

If you want to find out more about other tropical diseases such as malaria, and how you treat them, then check out our travel advice and information.

You might also find our guide to travel essentials, information about travel vaccinations and a variety of insect repellents handy too.

References

www.nhs.uk/conditions/yellow-fever
www.nhs.uk/conditions/yellow-fever/vaccination
www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/disease-prevention-advice/yellow-fever
www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/disease-prevention-advice/yellow-fever-vaccine
www.who.int/publications/m/item/countries-with-risk-of-yellow-fever-transmission-and-countries-requiring-yellow-fever-vaccination-(may-2021)
wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/preparing-international-travelers/yellow-fever-vaccine-and-malaria-prophylaxis-information-by-country/niue
www.who.int/teams/health-product-policy-and-standards/standards-and-specifications/vaccine-standardization/yellow-fever

*Data correct as of May 2021 - https://nathnacyfzone.org.uk/factsheet/60/yellow-fever-maps