Yellow fever

Yellow fever is a serious infection spread by mosquitoes. It's found in parts of Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

There's a vaccine that can stop you getting it if you're travelling to an area where the infection is found.

Yellow fever vaccination

The yellow fever vaccine is recommended if you're travelling to:

  • an area where yellow fever is found
  • a country that requires you to have a certificate proving you have been vaccinated against yellow fever

You need to have the vaccine at least 10 days before travelling to give it enough time to work. Your certificate will only be valid after this time.

The vaccine and certificate are only available from registered yellow fever vaccination centres.

The jab is not usually given for free on the NHS and typically costs around £60 to £80.

The vaccine provides lifelong protection, so you won't normally need a booster dose or a new certificate if you have been vaccinated before.

Read more about the yellow fever vaccine.

Where yellow fever is found

Yellow fever is found in:

  • most of sub-Saharan Africa (the area below the Sahara desert)
  • most of South America
  • parts of Central America
  • parts of the Caribbean

It isn't found in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand or the Pacific Islands.

Some countries near to areas where yellow fever is found may require a proof of vaccination certificate when visiting, even if there's no risk of picking up the infection in these countries.

To find out if yellow fever is a risk where you're travelling to or if the country you're visiting requires a vaccination certificate, see:

How yellow fever is spread

Yellow fever is a virus spread by mosquito bites. You can't get it from close contact with someone who has it.

The mosquitoes that spread the infection are found in towns and rural areas. They mainly bite during the day.

If you're travelling to an area where yellow fever is found, try to avoid being bitten, even if you have been vaccinated. 

Mosquitoes can also spread other serious illnesses, such as malaria and dengue.

You can do this by using mosquito nets, wearing clothes that cover your arms and legs, and using insect repellent containing 30% to 50% DEET.

Read more about how to prevent insect bites.

Symptoms of yellow fever

The first symptoms of yellow fever usually develop 3 to 6 days after being infected.

They include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • headache
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • muscle pain and backache 
  • your eyes being sensitive to light
  • loss of appetite and feeling generally unwell

Most people make a full recovery after 3 or 4 days.

A few people go on to get more serious symptoms, such as:

Up to half of those who get these symptoms die.

When to get medical help

See a doctor straight away if you get symptoms of yellow fever while travelling in an area where the infection is found.

If you get symptoms after recently returning from one of these areas, contact your GP or NHS 111 for advice as soon as possible.

Tell them exactly where you have been travelling, whether you think you have been bitten by a mosquito, and what symptoms you have.

You may need to have a blood test to check for the infection.

Treatments for yellow fever

There's no cure for yellow fever, but the symptoms can be treated while your body fights off the infection.

Most people make a full recovery after 3 or 4 days.

Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help lower your temperature and relieve aches or pains in the meantime. 

Also drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

If you have more serious symptoms, you may need to go into hospital for close monitoring and treatment of your symptoms until you're feeling better.

Page last reviewed: Sat May 2020 Next review due: Sat May 2020

NHS Attribution