What is yellow fever?

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Know the basics

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a viral infection transmitted by a bite from infected mosquitoes most commonly found in parts of South America and Africa. When transmitted to humans, the yellow fever virus can damage the liver and other internal organs and be potentially fatal.

How common is yellow fever?

The infection is most common in areas of Africa and South America, affecting travelers to and residents of those areas.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 200,000 cases of yellow fever worldwide each year, resulting in 30,000 deaths. Yellow fever appears to be on the rise internationally, due to a decreased immunity to infection among local populations, deforestation, climate change, and high-density urbanization.

It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of yellow fever?

Yellow fever gets its name from two of its most obvious symptoms: fever and yellowing of the skin. The yellowing occurs because the disease causes liver damage, hepatitis. For some people, yellow fever has no initial symptoms, while for others, the first symptoms appear from three to six days after exposure to the virus from a mosquito bite.

Once the infection enters the acute phase, you may experience signs and symptoms including:

  • Fever;
  • Headache;
  • Muscle aches, particularly in your back and knees;
  • Sensitivity to light;
  • Nausea, vomiting or both;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Dizziness;
  • Red eyes, face or tongue.

These signs and symptoms usually improve and are gone within several days.

Although signs and symptoms may disappear for a day or two following the acute phase, some people with acute yellow fever then enter a toxic phase. During the toxic phase, acute signs and symptoms return and more-severe and life-threatening ones also appear. These can include:

  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice);
  • Abdominal pain and vomiting, sometimes of blood;
  • Decreased urination;
  • Bleeding from your nose, mouth and eyes;
  • Slow heart rate (bradycardia);
  • Liver and kidney failure;
  • Brain dysfunction, including delirium, seizures and coma.

The toxic phase of yellow fever can be fatal.

There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Before travel

  • Four weeks or more before your trip, make an appointment to see your doctor if you’re traveling to an area in which yellow fever is known to occur so that you discuss whether you need the yellow fever vaccine.
  • If you have less than four weeks to prepare, call your doctor anyway. Ideally, you’ll be able to be vaccinated at least three to four weeks before traveling to an area where yellow fever occurs to give the vaccine time to work. Your doctor will help you determine whether you need vaccinations and can provide general guidance on protecting your health while abroad.

After travel

  • Seek emergency medical care if you’ve recently traveled to a region where yellow fever is known to occur and you develop signs or symptoms of the toxic phase of the disease.
  • Call your doctor if you develop mild symptoms, after traveling to a region where yellow fever occurs.

Know the causes

What causes yellow fever?

Yellow fever is typically spread to humans from bites by infected mosquitoes. People cannot spread yellow fever among themselves through casual contact, although the infection can be transmitted directly into the blood through contaminated needles.

A few different species of mosquitoes transmit the yellow fever virus; some breed in urban areas, others in jungles. Mosquitoes that breed in the jungle also transmit yellow fever to monkeys, who, in addition to humans, are a host for the disease.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for yellow fever?

There are many risk factors for yellow fever such as:

You may be at risk of the disease if you travel to an area where mosquitoes continue to carry the yellow fever virus. These areas include sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

Even if there aren’t current reports of infected humans in these areas, it doesn’t mean you’re risk-free. It’s possible that local populations have been vaccinated and are protected from the disease, or that cases of yellow fever just haven’t been detected and officially reported.

Anyone can be infected with the yellow fever virus, but older adults are at greater risk of getting seriously ill.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is yellow fever diagnosed?

There are many risk factors for yellow fever such as:

You may be at risk of the disease if you travel to an area where mosquitoes continue to carry the yellow fever virus. These areas include sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

Even if there aren’t current reports of infected humans in these areas, it doesn’t mean you’re risk-free. It’s possible that local populations have been vaccinated and are protected from the disease, or that cases of yellow fever just haven’t been detected and officially reported.

Anyone can be infected with the yellow fever virus, but older adults are at greater risk of getting seriously ill.

How is yellow fever treated?

No antiviral medications have proved helpful in treating yellow fever. As a result, treatment consists primarily of supportive care in a hospital. This includes:

  • Providing fluids and oxygen;
  • Maintaining adequate blood pressure;
  • Replacing blood loss;
  • Providing dialysis for kidney failure;
  • Treating any other infections that develop;
  • Some people receive transfusions of plasma to replace blood proteins that improve clotting.

If you have yellow fever, your doctor will likely recommend that you stay inside, away from mosquitoes, to avoid transmitting the disease to others. Once you’ve have yellow fever, you’ll be immune to the disease for the rest of your life.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage yellow fever?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with yellow fever:

Even though there is no specific treatment for yellow fever, supportive care at home is not advised where resources permit access to health care. Any nonresident traveler to areas endemic for yellow fever is also at risk for other life-threatening conditions and should seek urgent evaluation at an emergency department if fever develops. Aside from yellow fever, malaria may manifest even up to one year later, regardless of preventive treatment. There are no effective home remedies for yellow fever, and individuals must seek urgent medical care and follow all medical instructions carefully.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

msBahasa Malaysia

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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