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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Yellow fever

Last reviewed: December 6, 2011.

Yellow fever is a viral infection spread by mosquitoes.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Yellow fever is caused by a virus carried by mosquitoes. You can catch this disease if you are bitten by a mosquito infected with this virus. 

This disease is common in South America and in sub-Saharan Africa.

Anyone can get yellow fever, but the elderly have a higher risk of severe infection.

If a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, symptoms usually develop 3 - 6 days later.

Symptoms

Yellow fever has three stages:

  • Stage 1 (infection): Headache, muscle and joint aches, fever, flushing, loss of appetite, vomiting, and jaundice are common. Symptoms often go away briefly after about 3-4 days. 
  • Stage 2 (remission):  Fever and other symptoms go away. Most people will recover at this stage, but others may get worse within 24 hours.
  • Stage 3 (intoxication): Problems with many organs occur. This may include heart, liver, and kidney failure, bleeding disorders, seizures, coma, and delirium.

Symptoms may include:

Signs and tests

The health care provider will examine the person. This may show liver and kidney failure and shock.

It is important to tell your doctor if you have traveled to areas where the disease is known to thrive. Blood tests can confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever. Treatment for symptoms can include:

  • Blood products for severe bleeding
  • Dialysis for kidney failure
  • Fluids through a vein (intravenous fluids)

Expectations (prognosis)

Yellow fever can cause severe problems, including internal bleeding. Death is possible.

Complications

Calling your health care provider

Get medical attention at least 10 - 14 days before traveling to an endemic area for yellow fever to find out whether you should be vaccinated against the disease.

Tell your health care provider right away if you or your child develop fever, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, or jaundice, especially if you have traveled to an area where yellow fever is known to occur.

Prevention

If you will be traveling to an area where yellow fever is common:

  • Sleep in screened housing
  • Use mosquito repellents
  • Wear clothing that fully covers your body

There is an effective vaccine against yellow fever. Ask your doctor at least 10 - 14 days before traveling if you should be vaccinated against yellow fever.

References

  1.  
  2. Bausch DG. Viral hemorrhagic fevers.In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds.Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 389.

Review Date: 12/6/2011.

Reviewed by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Yellow fever vaccine for patients with HIV infection
    In the United States of America, current guidelines do not recommend YF vaccine for individuals with HIV infection or AIDS; these recommendations, however, are targeted mostly at travellers to the parts of Latin America and Africa where YF occurs and who have the option of not going. For HIV‐infected patients living in these areas where exposure is inevitable, it is important to weigh the risks of vaccination against the risk of developing YF. There are no known medicines for YF, further highlighting the importance of vaccine. The purpose of this review was to assess the risks and benefits of YF vaccine for people living with HIV. We found three cohort studies that addressed this question. One study in children, from a time before effective widespread use of antiretroviral drugs, found that YF vaccine worked much less well in children with HIV than it did in those without HIV. Two studies in adults found that the immune response to yellow fever vaccine was slightly lower in HIV‐infected patients. No severe adverse events were observed in patients in these studies. However, because the numbers of people with HIV who have received YF vaccine is small, and serious side effects are uncommon in people without HIV infection, we are not positive about its safety. When it does need to be used, it should be given to people whose viral loads are low and CD4 counts are high.
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