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What A Yellow Fever Travel Warning Means For Your Next Trip

Meredith Miller | Published: June 14, 2018

Mosquito on finger

Before you leave the country, it's critical that you are aware of any recommended vaccinations to get before you take off, especially if there are any travel warnings. Right now, you should be taking into account yellow fever.

People who live in the United States probably don't know much about this disease because it's not really a problem here. However, for travelers going to certain destinations, the disease is a real threat. Yellow fever tends to be endemic in tropical countries, especially parts of South America and Africa. The term endemic means that the disease is always present. A yellow fever warning means that a traveler to certain areas is at a very high risk for the disease and should receive a vaccination before traveling there.

What is Yellow Fever?

Yellow fever is a virus spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. It's not contagious person-to-person, but mosquitoes do an excellent job of spreading the virus all by themselves. Yellow fever symptoms are flu-like, with headache, backache, fever, vomiting and chills. These symptoms occur some three to six days following an infected mosquito bite. For most people, yellow fever symptoms will stop there. Over the next couple days, the person begins to feel better and eventually recovers. They are now immune from further attacks.

Disease Complications

Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. Some 15%-25% of persons will not recover from the initial yellow fever symptoms. They will go on to develop much more severe complications, which can include damage to the kidneys, liver and circulatory system. This is where yellow fever derives its name, that is, from the jaundice that occurs from liver damage caused by the virus.

Jaundice is a medical term for yellowing of the skin, tongue and whites of the eyes caused by some form of liver damage. About half of people affected by these complications will die from severe yellow fever symptoms such as liver damage, shock and multiple organ failure. The rest will go on to eventually recover. They will also be forever immune to further viral infection. There is no way to know ahead of time who will be prone to severe complications and who will not.

Where Does Yellow Fever Come From?

Monkeys are the primary animal host for the disease. Monkeys serve as reservoirs in which the virus can survive. Infected wild mosquitoes bite the monkeys. The monkeys become infected, and then they infect other mosquitoes when they are bitten again. Sometimes, people working in dense jungle environments are infected due to the large local infected mosquito populations. However, the typical traveler isn't infected in this way. More than likely, they are the victims of urban transmission, which occurs when large numbers of people living in cities are exposed to huge populations of infected mosquitoes.

Is There A Cure For Yellow Fever?

Once acquired, the virus cannot be treated except by general supportive methods. There is no direct cure. Either the infected person's immune system conquers the virus and kills it, or it doesn't. However, there is a highly effective yellow fever vaccine. The yellow fever vaccine is given once by injection. Immunity begins to build immediately. However, you should wait at least 10 days before traveling to disease-endemic areas. Full immunity may not occur until 30 days after vaccine administration.

How To Get The Vaccine

The yellow fever vaccine is available at about 250 locations around the United States. The CDC, or Centers for Disease Control, maintains a list of these locations on their website. A quick visit to their site will direct you to locations that are offering injections of Stamaril, the name of the current yellow fever vaccine. Expect to pay up to several hundred dollars per person for this protection. Protect yourself further with insect repellent, long sleeves and long pants. Be sure to sleep under mosquito netting, too. For more information about vaccination clinic locations, you can visit the CDC website. You will also find other useful information about this disease.

Special Advisement for Brazil

Anyone planning travel to Brazil is under special advisement to get the yellow fever vaccine before traveling to their destination. Brazil has several hot spots of the disease at the current time. If you have any plans to visit Brazil in the near future, it's absolutely vital that you consider getting vaccinated, because right now there is a travel warning for all tourists.