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Yellow Fever

How Is Yellow Fever Diagnosed?

Yellow fever is diagnosed by your symptoms, recent travel activity, and blood tests. Yellow fever symptoms can mimic symptoms of other tropical disease such as malaria and typhoid, so call your doctor if you have symptoms of yellow fever and have recently traveled to a high-risk country.

How Is Yellow Fever Treated?

Since there is no cure for the viral infection itself, medical treatment of yellow fever focuses on easing symptoms such as fever, muscle pain, and dehydration. Because of the risk of internal bleeding, avoid aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs if you suspect you have yellow fever. Hospitalization is often needed.

Yellow Fever Prevention Through Vaccination

Because there is no cure for yellow fever, prevention is critical. The yellow fever vaccine is advised for adults and children over age 9 months who are traveling to or living in countries with a known risk of yellow fever. Certain countries in Africa and Latin America with the highest risk of exposure to yellow fever now require proof of yellow fever vaccination before allowing you to travel there. 

Travel medicine clinics and state or local health departments usually offer the vaccine, which needs to be repeated every 10 years for people traveling to high-risk areas. These approved vaccination centers also provide you with the International Certificate of Vaccination that you'll need to enter certain at-risk countries. 

Call your doctor right away if you develop a fever, flu-like symptoms, or other unusual signs after taking the vaccine.The yellow fever vaccine, in a few rare cases, has caused an allergic reaction, nervous system reaction, and life-threatening illness.

Who Should Not Be Vaccinated for Yellow Fever?

Yellow fever vaccination is not advised for everyone. The vaccine can cause serious adverse effects in certain people. Efforts are underway to develop a killed vaccine that will be safer. Talk with your doctor before getting the vaccine if you:

  • Have a compromised immune system, such as from HIV
  • Have cancer or thymus gland problems
  • Have had treatment that can disrupt the immune system, such as steroids or cancer treatment
  • Have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to eggs, chicken, gelatin, or past yellow fever vaccine
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Are 65 or older
  • Your child is younger than 9 months old. 

Keep in mind that vaccination has two goals: to protect the health of individual travelers coming into high-risk regions and to protect the public health of countries by preventing the import of yellow fever into their region.If you're exempt from vaccination for medical reasons, you may need to provide proof of exemption for entry into some countries.


Other Yellow Fever Prevention Measures

Vaccination is the most important measure you should take when traveling to areas where exposure to the yellow fever virus is possible. No other measure is more effective, but there are other valuable recommendations. You should:

  • Use the right insect repellent for mosquitoes on exposed skin and follow package directions. Buy one with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or an ingredient called IR3535.
  • Cover your arms, hands, legs, and head to protect yourself from bites.
  • Use a mosquito repellent containing permethrin on the outside of clothing, mosquito netting, and other gear.
  • Use screens on windows and doors, and mosquito netting over beds, to keep mosquitoes away.
  • Avoid the outdoors during peak mosquito hours (dusk to dawn).
  • Keep accurate records of international travel dates, locations, and outdoor activities in case you need to identify a viral infection when you return.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Ann Edmundson, MD, PhD on October 14, 2012

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