Yellow fever is common in parts of Africa and South America. In fact, in Africa about 180,000 people get it every year. Yellow fever is not found in the United States — and thanks to the vaccine, travelers rarely get the disease.
The yellow fever vaccine is only recommended for people living in or traveling to places where yellow fever is a risk — or for people who work in labs studying the virus.
Most people who get yellow fever will only get a mild form of the disease. But in some cases, people with yellow fever can develop serious complications — including organ failure or bleeding. Serious cases of yellow fever can be deadly.
If you’re planning to travel to parts of South America or Africa where yellow fever is common, or you work in a lab studying yellow fever, getting vaccinated can protect you.
Yellow fever is caused by a virus. Most people who get yellow fever recover after mild symptoms, including:
- Fever and chills
- Severe headache
- Back pain
- Body aches
- Upset stomach and throwing up
- Feeling tired and weak
About 15 out of 100 people who get yellow fever go on to develop more serious symptoms:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Bleeding from multiple parts of the body
- Liver, kidney, lung, and other organ failures
Yellow fever does not spread from person to person, like through touching or kissing. The virus that causes yellow fever is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Learn more about yellow fever.
The yellow fever vaccine is recommended for people age 9 months and older who are living in or traveling to parts of Africa or South America where there’s a risk of yellow fever. It’s also recommended for people studying yellow fever in labs.
Everyone ages 9 months through 59 years who plans to travel to parts of Africa or South America where yellow fever is a risk needs 1 dose of the yellow fever vaccine. If you plan to continue living in or traveling to that country, it’s possible you’ll need a booster shot every 10 years.
Some countries may require yellow fever vaccination
Some countries may require proof that you’ve been vaccinated against yellow fever. When you get vaccinated, ask for an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, which is proof that you have been vaccinated. The certificate is valid starting 10 days after you get the vaccine.
To find out if the yellow fever vaccine is recommended or required where you’re traveling, visit CDC’s travel website.
Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from yellow fever.
Some people should not get the yellow fever vaccine, including:
- People who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the yellow fever vaccine or any of the ingredients in the vaccine (like eggs, chicken proteins, or gelatin)
- Infants younger than 6 months
- People with a weakened immune system from ongoing medical conditions — like HIV (with symptoms), a disorder of the thymus (part of the immune system), and B- and T-lymphocyte or phagocytic function deficiencies (problems with special cells in the immune system)
- People who have cancerous tumors
- People who have had an organ or bone marrow transplant in the past 2 years
- People who are getting radiation treatment
Some people may be at increased risk for having a reaction to the yellow fever vaccine — but the benefit of the vaccine may still outweigh the risk. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of getting the yellow fever vaccine if you are:
- Age 60 and older
- Infected with HIV but don’t have symptoms
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
You’ll also need to discuss the benefits and risks of vaccination for your child if they're between 6 and 8 months old.
Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They may include:
- Pain, swelling, or redness where the shot was given
- Low fever
- Muscle aches
Serious side effects from the yellow fever vaccine are very rare.
Like any medicine, there's a very small chance that the yellow fever vaccine could cause a serious reaction. Learn more about vaccine side effects.
Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines.