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Yellow Fever

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a rare viral disease caused by the bite of a mosquito. But many countries still require visitors to be vaccinated for it before entering.

Yellow fever is found mainly in certain areas of Africa and in Brazil. In Brazil, infections happen only every now and then. They are usually among forestry and agricultural workers. In Africa, infections occur mostly in the tropical areas of western and central Africa. But they also happen in cities and jungle areas.

What causes yellow fever?

Yellow fever is caused by a virus (flavivirus). The virus is passed on to people through the bite of a mosquito (Aedes aegypti).

What are the symptoms of yellow fever?

Each person may have slightly different symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, vomiting, and backache
  • Slow and weak pulse
  • Bleeding of the gums
  • Bloody urine
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)

Symptoms usually occur within 3 to 6 days after you are exposed to the virus. Symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is yellow fever diagnosed?

Your health care provider will ask about your past health and travel history. You will also need an exam. Blood tests can also help with a diagnosis.

How is yellow fever treated?

Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:

  • How old you are
  • Your overall health and past health
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment is aimed at controlling your symptoms. This includes rest and plenty of fluids. You may also need to take medicine to help relieve fever and aching. You should not take aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. These may raise the risk of bleeding.

You should protect yourself from mosquitoes during the first few days of illness. This may mean staying indoors or under a mosquito net. This will help keep you from passing the disease on to other people.

What are the complications of yellow fever?

Most people who get yellow fever do not have complications. They may not even know they have had the disease. Some people who get it may have some weakness and fatigue for a few months after symptoms go away. If severe disease occurs, death is possible.

Can yellow fever be prevented?

A vaccine is available for yellow fever. The disease no longer occurs in the U.S. But talk with your health care provider to see if you need the shot before visiting areas where yellow fever still exists. People who have had yellow fever develop lifelong immunity.

When should I call my health care provider?

Call your health care provider right way if your symptoms get worse or you have new ones.

Key points

  • Yellow fever is a disease caused by a virus passed on through the bite of a mosquito.
  • Yellow fever occurs only in certain areas of Africa and South America.
  • The disease causes flu-like symptoms, slow and weak pulse, bleeding of the gums, bloody urine, and jaundice.
  • Treatment is aimed at controlling the symptoms. It includes rest and plenty of fluids. You may also need to take medicine to help relieve fever and aching.
  • A vaccine is available to prevent yellow fever. You may need it before traveling to some countries.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer: Marcellin, Lindsey, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 11/25/2013
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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