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Yellow fever

11-minute read

Key facts

  • Yellow fever is a disease that is transmitted through mosquito bites.
  • Symptoms can be mild or very severe, causing jaundice (skin yellowing), organ failure and death.
  • Yellow fever is found in parts of Africa, South America and Central America.
  • There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, but it can be prevented by getting vaccinated and protecting yourself against mosquito bites.

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a disease that can cause severe illness and even death. It is called yellow fever because in serious cases, it causes jaundice (makes your skin turn yellow).

Yellow fever is part of a group of illnesses called viral haemorrhagic fevers.

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

What causes yellow fever?

Yellow fever is caused by the yellow fever virus. The virus is caught by being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Yellow fever is usually spread by:

  • Haemagogus mosquitoes
  • Aedes mosquitoes, also known as the Dengue mosquito

It is found in parts of:

  • Africa
  • Central America
  • South America

If you are travelling to these countries, you will need to avoid mosquito bites and be vaccinated to prevent catching yellow fever.

What are the symptoms of yellow fever?

After being bitten by an infected mosquito, the symptoms of yellow fever can take 3 to 6 days to appear.

Initial symptoms include:

Most people recover after 3 to 4 days.

About 1 in 4 people develop more severe symptoms. These include:

About half of people who have severe yellow fever will die within 10 to 14 days.

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

When should I see my doctor?

If you have symptoms of yellow fever, visit your doctor. They can diagnose your condition and help you manage symptoms.

How is yellow fever diagnosed?

Yellow fever can be hard to recognise. Early symptoms of yellow fever are similar to many other illnesses.

Yellow fever can be diagnosed with a blood test.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is yellow fever treated?

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever.

Some symptoms of yellow fever, such as dehydration and fever, can be treated.

To reduce fever and pain, people with yellow fever should:

  • rest
  • drink plenty of fluids
  • take pain relief medicine

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

People with severe symptoms of yellow fever need hospital treatment. Those who are seriously ill will need to be looked after in intensive care.

Can yellow fever be prevented?

You can prevent yellow fever by avoiding mosquito bites and getting vaccinated.

Yellow fever vaccine

Vaccination can help to protect you against yellow fever.

Vaccination is recommended for people who:

  • work with the yellow fever virus in laboratories
  • are aged over 9 months, and are travelling to an area with a risk of yellow fever

Booster vaccination is recommended for people who:

  • received their first dose of the vaccine while pregnant
  • received their first dose of the vaccine while HIV positive
  • will be staying in a high-risk area for a long period of time
  • are travelling to an area with outbreaks of yellow fever, especially if they have had a stem cell transplant

See more details about yellow fever vaccination in the table below.

When to get vaccinated?

At least 6 to 12 weeks before leaving Australia, when travelling to a country with a risk of yellow fever.

How many doses are required?


How is it administered?


Is it free?

No, there is a cost for this vaccine.

Common side effects

Mild side effects may include:

  • headaches
  • muscle pain
  • low fever

There are also some very rare but serious side effects from the yellow fever vaccine.

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.

Avoiding mosquito bites

To prevent infection from the yellow fever virus, avoid being bitten by mosquitoes in countries where yellow fever is present.

To prevent mosquito bites, apply mosquito repellent. The best repellents contain ingredients such as DEET (diethyltoluamide) or picaridin.

Don't use too much repellent on children and avoid their:

  • hands
  • eyes
  • mouth

If you are pregnant, check with your doctor before using mosquito repellent.

You should also:

  • Avoid going outside at dawn or dusk.
  • Sleep under a mosquito net treated with an insecticide such as permethrin.
  • Wear covered footwear and long socks.
  • Wear loose, light-coloured clothing that covers your body — avoid tight clothing as mosquitos can bite through these.
  • Avoid wearing perfume or cologne, as some can attract mosquitos.
  • Use insect sprays or vaporising mats inside.
  • Remove containers of water from around your accommodation, as mosquitos can use these to breed.

Travel and the yellow fever virus

It's important to get your yellow fever vaccination at an approved clinic. You need it at least 10 days before you travel. 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 your nearest approved yellow fever vaccination clinic, visit the Department of Health website.

If you 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 enter Australia. Everyone aged over 12 months needs to show the certificate.

How can the spread of yellow fever be prevented?

Yellow fever is a nationally notifiable disease in Australia. If you are diagnosed with yellow fever, your doctor will tell your local public health unit.

Complications of yellow fever

Severe yellow fever can cause organ failure and death.

Resources and support

For more information on yellow fever, visit the Department of Health yellow fever fact sheet.

For more information on travel, you can:

For more information on immunisation in Australia, you can check:

If you need advice on what to do next, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2023

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