Yellow Fever: the vaccine and possible side effects


Yellow fever is a viral infection that is transmitted by mosquitoes found in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. If you’re travelling to sub-Saharan Africa or tropical South America, here is everything you need to know about yellow fever and the vaccine.

Yellow fever warning sign against sunset

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a viral infection that is transmitted by mosquitoes found in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

Symptoms tend to develop approximately 3-6 days after infection. These symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • A high temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle pain

In the majority of cases, these initial symptoms pass after a few days.

However, some people (around 15%) will experience more severe symptoms, these include:

  • Jaundice
  • Kidney failure
  • Unusual bleeding

20%-50% of severe cases will be fatal.

How is yellow fever spread?

Yellow fever is not transmittable through close contact with an infected person. The disease is transmitted through infected mosquito bites.

How is yellow fever prevented?

Bites usually occur in the daytime, but can be prevented through bite prevention and vaccination. Bite prevention through the use of repellents, and clothes with long-sleeves and full trousers. Repellents may discourage mosquito bites but are not a satisfactory substitute for a vaccination, which is the most effective way to prevent yellow fever.

What are the possible side effects of the yellow fever vaccination?

Some people experience mild side effects after having the yellow fever vaccine, such as: (The most common side-effects reported are local reactions – around 16%)

  • Soreness at the injection site

(This may last up to 5 days)

(These usually self-resolve, or can be treated with paracetamol)

Very rarely (0.01%-0.1% of side effects reported), serious side effects can include:

  • An allergic reaction to the vaccine
  • Yellow fever vaccine
    -associated neurological disease (YEL-AND) – a condition that affects the brain and nervous system, which can cause problems with movement and co-ordination.
  • Yellow fever vaccine-associated viscerotropic disease (YEL-AVD) – a condition that affects your internal organs, and in some cases, can lead to organ failure.

Due to the rare side effects, it is important to receive a consultation from a trained medical professional, which will assess your eligibility for the vaccination and ensure it is given safely.

How will my eligibility be decided for a yellow fever vaccine?

It is important when travelling to South America and sub-Saharan Africa, that travellers receive a consultation on their vaccination requirements and eligibility from a trained medical professional. At London Travel Clinic, our specialist nurses make an informed decision on whether someone should receive the vaccine or not. There are many points to consider, including, but not exclusively:

  • Age
  • General wellbeing
  • Immune status
  • Thymus disease history
  • History of splenectomy
  • Current medication
  • Recent /other vaccines
  • Allergies – including allergy to egg

The number of fatalities from yellow fever greatly outweighs any adverse reaction to the vaccine.

If you are planning a trip to South America or sub- Saharan Africa it is important to proceed with a vaccination consultation.

For more information regarding yellow fever please visit:
Yellow Fever Information

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