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Yellow fever

4-minute read

Yellow fever is a serious disease that you can catch by being bitten by an infected mosquito. If you are travelling to some parts of Africa, Central or South America, you will need a vaccination to prevent you catching yellow fever.

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is caused by a virus. It can make you very ill, causing bleeding from the organs of your body and even death. It’s called yellow fever because sometimes it makes the skin turn yellow (jaundice).

The virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected Aedes or Haemagogus mosquitoes. Yellow fever is found in 29 countries in Africa and 13 countries in Central and South America. Visit The Department of Health website for a list of yellow fever risk countries and areas

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

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

Symptoms of yellow fever

Symptoms usually develop 3 to 6 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Sometimes people are not seriously ill. In some people, there are 2 stages to yellow fever. The first stage causes symptoms including:

  • fever
  • muscle pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • weakness

The second stage involves bleeding, jaundice and liver and kidney failure. About half of people who progress to the second stage will die within 10 to 14 days.

Diagnosis and treatment of yellow fever

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.

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, although symptoms such as dehydration and fever can be treated. People who are seriously ill will need to be looked after in intensive care.

Yellow fever prevention

The best way to prevent yellow fever is by being vaccinated. You only need one vaccination to protect you your whole life. Children over 9 months can have the vaccination.

It’s 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 from somewhere that has yellow fever, you will need to show a yellow fever vaccination certificate before you can come into the country. Everyone over one 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 is your best protection 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 6 to 12 weeks before you leave Australia.
How many doses are required? One
How is it administered? Injection
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.

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 home

More information

  • For more information about vaccinations, visit our travel vaccinations page.
  • For more information about preventing mosquito bites, visit our insect bites page.
  • For more information about yellow fever, visit the Department of Health yellow fever fact sheet.
  • For more information about travelling overseas, visit the Smartraveller website.

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

Last reviewed: April 2019

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