Yellow fever is a viral disease spread by mosquitoes. It occurs in tropical areas of South America and Africa. The disease is named yellow fever because one of the symptoms is jaundice, which occurs when liver inflammation causes yellowing of skin and eyes.1
Australians travelling to South America and Africa are potentially at risk. Once contracted, the virus generally incubates for one week. The first signs of yellow fever are flu-like symptoms including a high fever, muscle pain, chills and headaches. After three days, symptoms start to fade. In a small percentage of cases, the remission is followed by the onset of more severe symptoms like vomiting blood, jaundice and renal failure. In severe cases, yellow fever can be fatal.1
Mosquitoes carry yellow fever from person to person. Several different species of mosquito transmit the virus, in domestic, semi-domestic and jungle environments.1
Vaccination is important for preventing yellow fever. Australians travelling to high risk yellow fever areas should be vaccinated against the disease. Travellers are advised to visit their General Practitioner or travel medicine specialist six to eight weeks before travelling overseas to discuss suitable vaccination options. Australians should be aware that yellow fever vaccination may be a formal requirement to enter some countries where the disease is present.
Travellers to areas where yellow fever may be present are advised to take extra precaution to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. They should use insect repellent when outdoors and wear light, long sleeved protective clothes. It is often advised that clothes are treated with repellent too. Extra precaution is required between dusk and dawn. Travellers are advised to book accommodation in rooms with air conditioning or adequate screening, like a bed net or aerosol room insecticides. 2
Yellow fever is difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms are similar to a number of other illnesses. The virus is confirmed by blood test. There is also no specific treatment for yellow fever, so patients’ symptoms are treated, as opposed to the virus itself. Up to 50% of affected people die of yellow fever. 1
Urgent medical advice is recommended for the onset of yellow fever-like symptoms. For more information please contact your healthcare professional.