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Yellow fever

8-minute read

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a serious disease caught by being bitten by a mosquito infected by a virus. It can cause severe illness, with bleeding from the organs of the body and even death. It is called yellow fever because sometimes it makes the skin turn yellow (jaundice).

Yellow fever does not occur in Australia. If you are travelling to some parts of Africa, Central or South America, you will need to avoid mosquito bites and be vaccinated to prevent you catching yellow fever.

You can also check whether there is a yellow fever risk in the country you are travelling to at Smartraveller.

Yellow fever kills about 30,000 people every year worldwide.

What are the symptoms of yellow fever?

Most people have no symptoms or mild symptoms and then recover. People who do develop symptoms usually do so 3 to 6 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Initial symptoms include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • body aches
  • back pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • severe headache
  • fatigue
  • weakness

Most people recover in about a week, though the weakness and fatigue sometimes last for several months.

Some people develop more severe symptoms. These include:

  • high fever
  • jaundice
  • bleeding
  • shock
  • organ failure

About half of people who progress to this stage will die within 10 to 14 days.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the feeling sick or unwell Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes yellow fever?

The virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected Aedes or Haemagogus mosquitoes. Yellow fever is found in some countries in Africa and Central and South America. Visit the Department of Health website for a list of yellow fever risk countries and areas.

How is yellow fever diagnosed?

Yellow fever can be hard to recognise because the first stage is similar to many other illnesses. The diagnosis is confirmed with a blood test.

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How is yellow fever treated?

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, although symptoms such as dehydration and fever can be treated.

People with yellow fever should rest drink plenty of fluids and take pain relief medication to bring down their fever and reduce the aching.

It is important not to take medications including aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen or naproxen), as these may increase the risk of bleeding.

People with severe symptoms of yellow fever infection should be hospitalised for close observation and supportive care.

People who are seriously ill will need to be looked after in intensive care.

Can yellow fever be prevented?

The most effective way to prevent infection from the yellow fever virus it to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes in countries where yellow fever is present.

To avoid mosquito bites:

  • stay indoors at dusk and dawn, when mosquitos are most active. The mosquitos that carry yellow fever are active all day
  • stay in a screened or air-conditioned room, or sleep under a mosquito net treated with permethrin
  • wear covered footwear outside and loose, light-coloured clothing that covers your body
  • apply mosquito repellent containing DEET (diethyltoluamide). Use sparingly on children and avoid their hands, eyes and mouth. If you are pregnant, check with your doctor first
  • spray mosquito repellent onto your clothes
  • use pyrethrum insect sprays or vaporising mats inside
  • burn mosquito coils when outdoors
  • remove mosquito breeding places, such as any containers holding stagnant water, from around the house

Vaccination is also an effective protection against yellow fever. Most people need only 1 vaccination for lifelong protection. Some people may consider a booster, such as those going to areas where there are ongoing outbreaks and it has been 10 years or more since they were last vaccinated. Children over 9 months can have the vaccination.

It is important to get your yellow fever vaccination at an approved clinic. You need it at least 10 days before you travel to the country. You will be given an international yellow fever vaccination certificate. You may need to show this to enter other countries after you have been in a yellow fever-infected area.

To find the nearest approved yellow fever vaccination clinic in your state, visit the Department of Health website.

If you arrive in Australia and have stayed somewhere that has yellow fever in the last 6 days, you will need to show a yellow fever vaccination certificate before you can come into the country. Everyone over 1 year old needs to show the certificate.

Even if you have been vaccinated, you still need to prevent mosquito bites. Mosquitoes carry other serious illnesses including malaria, Zika virus and dengue fever.

Yellow fever vaccine

Vaccination can help to protect you against yellow fever. This table explains how the vaccine is given, who should get it, and whether it is on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Some diseases can be prevented with different vaccines, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.

When to get vaccinated?

You should consult your doctor or visit a travel health clinic at least 6 and preferably 12 weeks before you leave Australia.

How many doses are required?


How is it administered?


Is it free?

No, there is a cost for this vaccine.

Find out more on the Department of Health website and the National Immunisation Program Schedule, and ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccines based on your situation or location.

Common side effects

The vaccine is very safe. Mild side effects may include headaches, muscle pain or low fever. There are very rare but serious side effects from the yellow fever vaccine.

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Last reviewed: April 2021

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