Everything You Need to Know About the Yellow Fever Vaccine
A guide to the vaccines travelers may need to have.
The Yellow Fever Virus
Yellow fever, a viral hemorrhagic disease caused by the yellow fever virus, affects roughly 200,000 people a year. Though the disease got its start in Africa, outbreaks have occurred as far away as the Yucatan Peninsula and even Philadelphia, where 5,000 people were wiped out during a single epidemic in the 18th century.
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Typically, yellow fever causes, chills, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and — of course — a fever. It's certainly not a pleasant way to spend any part of your trip. While most people recover after 3 or 4 days, some experience a second wave of afflictions, which can bring jaundice (hence the name), abdominal pain and vomiting, and bleeding from the mouth, nose, and eyes. In cases where yellow fever has developed past this point, the risk of death is about 50 percent.
Back in the day, yellow fever was no joke. A single outbreak had the power to annihilate huge groups of people in small areas, though the cause of the illness eluded doctors. It wasn’t until the 1900s that they determined yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes.
The Yellow Fever Vaccine
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no cure for yellow fever. Instead, patients are treated based on their symptoms (described above), and on their recent travel history.
While a vaccine is recommended for any travel to Africa or South America, other important prevention methods include mosquito nets, wearing clothes that cover the entire body, and using a strong insect repellent with DEET.
The yellow fever vaccine was developed by Max Theiler in the United States, and he won the Nobel Prize for this life-saving contribution. Unlike other vaccines, the yellow fever vaccine is a one-time deal: a single dose provides lifetime immunity. (Travelers who frequently visit at-risk areas should get a booster shot ever 10 years.)
The vaccine can be given to infants as young as 9 months, and is recommended for anyone traveling to certain areas in Africa and South America.
As with most vaccines, an amount of time is needed for the vaccine to work its way through your body, and it’s recommended that you schedule the vaccine appointment 10 days prior to traveling.
The yellow fever vaccine is only offered at designated vaccination centers, and can cost between $150 and $350, depending on availability. Certain countries, including Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, even require a proof of vaccination from all travelers when they arrive — and that certificate is obtained from your doctor after being given the shot.