Yellow fever is transmitted to people by mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, nausea and vomiting. Vaccination is required for people travelling to areas where the virus is common, such as parts of South America and Africa.

Last updated: 14 November 2022

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is caused by a virus that is mainly spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes (known as the Dengue mosquito).

What are the symptoms of yellow fever?

Symptoms of yellow fever include:

  • sudden onset of fever
  • chills
  • muscle pain
  • backache
  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms usually develop 3-6 days after the virus enters the body. After 3-4 days with symptoms most patients recover.

A small proportion of patients who contract yellow fever develop severe symptoms and approximately half of those die within 10-14 days.

Severe symptoms, include:

  • bleeding (from the mouth, nose and/or gut)
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • abdominal pain with vomiting
  • problems with kidney function.

How is yellow fever spread?

People develop yellow fever after being bitten by a mosquito that is infected with the yellow fever virus.

Yellow fever is mainly spread by the Dengue mosquito. The mosquito becomes infected when it feeds on a person or animal who has yellow fever virus in their blood during their infection. Once infected, the virus multiplies inside the mosquito and can infect other people when the mosquito bites them. The infection is not spread directly from person to person or from animal to person.

Who is at risk of getting yellow fever?

People who travel to affected areas of Africa and South America and who are not vaccinated are at risk of getting yellow fever.

See the Australian Government Department of Health’s yellow fever website for a list of yellow fever-affected countries.

How is yellow fever prevented?

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent yellow fever.

A single yellow fever vaccination provides life-long protection.

Some specific high-risk groups (such as women who were pregnant when they received their first dose of vaccine) may be recommended to have their protection checked through a blood test after 10 years or may be recommended to have a booster dose. Speak with your health care provider about your vaccination history before departure.

Yellow fever vaccination must be administered at an approved yellow fever vaccination centre and this must be recorded on an international yellow fever vaccination certificate. See the NSW Health’s yellow fever immunisation website for further information and a list of approved yellow fever vaccination centres.

If you are arriving in Australia from a yellow fever risk country but do not hold a vaccination certificate, you will still be permitted to enter Australia. You will be provided 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 risk country. For more information and for a list of yellow fever risk countries see the Australian Government Department of Health’s yellow fever website.

Some countries may refuse entry to any person without a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate who has recently been in a yellow fever infected country, and some of these may only allow unvaccinated people to enter after they are vaccinated at their border. The safety of the vaccine given in such situations cannot be guaranteed.

Even if you have been vaccinated it is still important to protect yourself against mosquito bites:

  • Cover up while outside (wear loose, long-sleeved, light-coloured clothing and covered footwear and socks). Mosquitoes can bite through tight clothing.
  • Apply mosquito repellent evenly to all areas of exposed skin. The most effective repellents contain picaridin, DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Natural or homemade repellents provide limited protection. Read the instructions to find out how often you should reapply repellent. Always apply sunscreen first and then apply repellent. Take special care during peak mosquito biting hours.
  • Take special care during peak mosquito biting hours. The mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya and Zika will bite all through the day.
  • Remove potential mosquito breeding sites from around the home and screen windows and doors.
  • Take extra precautions when travelling in areas with a higher risk of mosquito-borne diseases.

In addition to the general protection measures above, overseas travellers should also:

  • Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms
  • Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is exposed to the outdoors. Nets are most effective when they are treated with a pyrethroid insecticide, such as permethrin. Pre-treated bed nets can be purchased before travelling, or nets can be treated after purchase
  • Avoid known areas of high mosquito-borne disease transmission or outbreaks.

For more detailed Yellow Fever vaccination advice, see the Australian Immunisation Handbook and consult with your GP or travel medicine clinic.

For more detailed information on reducing the risk of mosquito bites at home and while travelling, see the Mosquitoes are a Health Hazard factsheet. This also includes more information on mosquito repellents.

See the Staying healthy when travelling overseas factsheet for further information on travel. The Smartraveller website also has health information for specific destinations.

How is yellow fever diagnosed?

Yellow fever is diagnosed with a blood test.

How is yellow fever treated?

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever. People can be treated in hospital for dehydration and fever.

If you have severe symptoms, you may need additional intensive care in the hospital.

What is the public health response to yellow fever?

When laboratories confirm that someone has yellow fever, they notify their local public health unit. Public health units follow up each case to determine where the person acquired the infection. This information is important in identifying areas where the virus is being transmitted and to prevent spread of yellow fever in Australia.

More information

For further information please call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.

If you have symptoms of yellow fever and you are concerned, speak to your doctor right away, or in an emergency call 000.

For health advice you can also call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for free 24-hour health advice.

Learn more about Australian and international yellow fever vaccination certificate requirements, see the Australian Department of Health yellow fever fact sheet page.

Current as at: Monday 14 November 2022
Contact page owner: Communicable Diseases