Yellow fever - general fact sheet

If you are travelling to Africa, the Caribbean, Central or South America, you should be aware of the risk of yellow fever virus transmission and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from infection.

This fact sheet covers: background; occurrence; vaccination requirement for travel; treatment; avoidance; quarantine measures; yellow fever vaccination certificate.

Page last updated: 14 February 2014

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a viral disease that is transmitted primarily by mosquitoes. Yellow fever can lead to serious illness and even death. It is called ‘yellow fever’ because in serious cases, the skin turns yellow in colour. This is known as ‘jaundice’. Yellow fever is a quarantinable disease in Australia.

What are the symptoms of yellow fever?

Symptoms of yellow fever may take 3 to 6 days to appear. Some infections can be mild but most lead to serious illness characterised by two stages. In the first stage fever, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, headache and weakness occur. About 15 to 25 per cent of those with yellow fever progress to the second stage also known as the’ toxic’ stage, of which half die within 10 to 14 days after onset of illness. Visible bleeding, jaundice, kidney and liver failure can occur during the second stage.

What is the occurrence of yellow fever worldwide?

The World Health Organization (WHO) closely monitors reports of yellow fever infection. Yellow fever is considered to be endemic in 30 African and 13 Central and South American countries.

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Does yellow fever occur in Australia?

Yellow fever does not occur in Australia, however one of the mosquito species (Aedes aegypti) that can transmit the disease is common in the coastal regions of northern Queensland.

How do humans become infected with yellow fever virus?

Yellow fever is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes from, principally, Aedes and Haemagogus mosquito species. The disease occurs in two forms – urban and sylvatic (jungle) yellow fever. Both forms are caused by the same virus.

In tropical rainforests, yellow fever occurs in monkeys that are infected by mosquitoes. The yellow fever virus is passed onto other mosquitoes that feed on infected monkeys. These infected mosquitoes bite humans that enter the forest, resulting in some cases of yellow fever. This form of the disease is known as ‘sylvatic’ or ‘jungle’ yellow fever.

In some parts of Africa mosquitoes that breed around households, can infect humans. Urban yellow fever happens when infected people introduce the virus into areas with high human populations. Mosquitoes carry the virus from person to person.

How is yellow fever treated?

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, however medicines can be used to relieve the symptoms and may improve the outcome for seriously ill patients.

Australia's yellow fever declared places (from 1 November 2012)

Australia’s list of yellow fever declared places includes 43 countries. The list is guided by World Health Organization’s list of yellow fever endemic countries and also takes into account recent international surveillance data.

Africa

  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Congo, Democratic Republic of the
  • Congo, Republic of the
  • Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Ethiopia
  • Gabon
  • Gambia
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Kenya
  • Liberia
  • Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Togo
  • Uganda

South America & Central America

  • Argentina – Misiones Province
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador excluding Galapagos Islands
  • French Guiana
  • Guyana
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Suriname
  • Trinidad
  • Venezuela
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How can travellers protect against yellow fever?

By getting vaccinated

Yellow fever is preventable. The vaccine is safe and almost 100 percent effective. With few exceptions, vaccination is recommended for all travellers to countries or areas where there is a risk of yellow fever transmission.

By avoiding mosquitoes

The mosquitoes that transmit yellow fever are usually active during the day. All people who travel to or live in yellow fever endemic countries are advised to avoid mosquitoes. This can be done by taking the following measures:

  • Wear a mosquito repellent containing DEET or Picaridin
  • Wear light coloured, long-sleeved clothes when you’re outdoors
  • Avoid wearing perfume or cologne (some of these can attract mosquitoes)
  • Prevent mosquitoes entering your accommodation
  • Use a mosquito net at night-time (if mosquitoes are likely to be present)

YELLOW FEVER VACCINATION

Do I need a yellow fever vaccination?

It is strongly recommended that all travellers be vaccinated for yellow fever if travelling to or from a yellow fever declared country. See: Where do I get a yellow fever vaccination and vaccination certificate.

People who are one year of age or older must hold an international vaccination certificate if, within six days before arriving in Australia, they have stayed overnight or longer in a yellow fever declared country.

As part of your travel arrangements it is strongly recommended that you check the yellow fever entry requirements for all the countries you intend entering, including those in which you will transit by contacting their foreign missions in Australia. The quarantine requirements for yellow fever vaccination differ markedly from country to country depending upon their relative risk exposure to the disease. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) web site lists contact details for diplomatic representatives of various foreign governments. DFAT’s Smartraveller web site also provides detailed travel information for each country.

If you have travelled through a yellow fever declared country, and you do not have a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate, you risk being refused entry into many countries or may be required to be vaccinated upon arrival. If you are arriving in Australia from a yellow fever declared country but do not hold a vaccination certificate you will still be permitted to enter Australia without one.

Who can have a yellow fever vaccination?

The yellow fever vaccine is recommended for:

  • persons who are nine months of age or older travelling or living in any country in West Africa, regardless of where they will be in that country; and
  • persons who are nine months of age or older travelling or living outside the urban areas of all other yellow fever endemic countries.

Additional information on yellow fever vaccination can be found in The Australian Immunisation Handbook.

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Can I be exempt from yellow fever vaccination?

Travellers should seek medical advice on yellow fever vaccination for their individual medical circumstances, particularly about the suitability of yellow fever vaccine for infants, pregnant women and those who are immuno-compromised.

If your health care practitioner is of the opinion that vaccination is contraindicated on medical grounds, they should supply you with a signed letter detailing the reasons why you should not be vaccinated. You should contact the embassy of the country(ies) to which you are travelling to ascertain if the letter needs to be in another language in addition to English.

Additional information on contraindications and precautions related to yellow fever vaccination can be found in The Australian Immunisation Handbook.

Will I be allowed to enter Australia, if I do not have a yellow fever vaccination certificate?

If you are arriving in Australia from a yellow fever declared country but do not hold a vaccination certificate you will still be permitted to enter Australia without one. On arrival in Australia, Department of Agriculture, Biosecurity officers will reinforce the seriousness of the disease to you and provide you with a Yellow Fever Action Card. The card provides instructions on what you should do if you develop any symptoms of yellow fever in the six-day period following your departure from a yellow fever declared country.

Where can I get a yellow fever vaccination and vaccination certificate?

Yellow fever vaccinations must be provided by an approved yellow fever vaccination clinic. These clinics will provide a vaccination certificate in the form approved and required by WHO. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is valid for 10 years and begins 10 days after vaccination. For details of your nearest yellow fever vaccination clinic, please contact your state or territory health department. Contact details for state or territory health departments can be found below.

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory

Queensland

South Australia

Tasmania

Victoria

Western Australia

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Where do I go for further information?

If you require any information about travel vaccinations, please contact your general practitioner or travel doctor.

Please contact the Department of Health on (02) 6289 8638 during business hours (AEST) for information about Australian requirements for yellow fever vaccination.

Useful Resources:

  1. International Travel and Health, World Health Organization, 2010
  2. WHO yellow fever fact sheet
  3. World Health Organization. Yellow fever situation in Africa and South America, 2005. Weekly Epidemiological Record 2006; 81:317-24
  4. Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, 19th Edition, 2008. American Public Health Association.
  5. The blue book: guidelines for the control of infectious diseases, 2005
  6. International Health Regulations, 2005, WHO, Annex 6, 7
  7. Yellow Fever Declaration 2009 at the Commonwealth of Australia Law Website
  8. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade web site
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