Protect Yourself Against Yellow Fever Before Traveling To Africa or South America

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blood-gorged mosquito on skin

If you are planning travel to certain parts of South America or Africa, it’s important to think about taking protective measures against yellow fever.

Yellow fever is a disease caused by a virus that is spread through mosquito bites. Symptoms, which include fever, chills, headache, backache and muscle aches, take three to six days to develop. About 15 percent of people who get yellow fever develop serious illness that can lead to bleeding, shock, organ failure and sometimes death.

Travelers can protect themselves by getting a yellow fever vaccine and guarding against mosquito bites.

Origins of Yellow Fever

The origins of yellow fever most likely are rooted in Africa driven by the transmission of the disease from nonhuman primates to humans.

The virus is believed to have originated in East or Central Africa and spread from there to West Africa. The disease was widespread in Africa, and so the people who lived there had developed some immunity. When an outbreak occurred in a colonized community, most Europeans would die, while the native Africans experienced flu-like symptoms, but survived. Fortunately, in the 1930s, a vaccine was created for this disease.

“Yellow fever has a very high case fatality rate, but the vaccine is extremely effective in preventing illness”, says Keith Armitage, MD, Medical Director at the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health.

Hard To Find

In recent years, however, the yellow fever vaccine has been hard to find. Back in 2015, Sanofi Pasteur, the only manufacturer of the vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), began updating its manufacturing facility and stopped producing the vaccine. The company planned to have enough doses to cover U.S. demand until the new facility opened, but manufacturing complications resulted in the loss of many doses.  Furthermore, a large outbreak in 2016 in Angola and Democratic Republic of the Congo triggered a massive immunization campaign that required 30 million vaccinations, putting further demands on the the supply.

Sanofi received emergency FDA approval in the United States for a second yellow fever vaccine, but even then, only a limited number of doses were available, and the number of clinics able to administer the vaccine dropped from about 4,000 to 250.

How to Get the Vaccine

As of April 2021, the original yellow fever vaccine is being produced again and available for sale in the United States, Dr. Armitage says. “This will ease previous supply concerns that existed with the temporary, secondary vaccine,” he says.

About 20 countries across Africa require the vaccine for travel, including Uganda, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends visiting a yellow fever vaccination (travel) clinic for a yellow fever vaccine at least 10 days before your trip if you are visiting a country where the yellow fever vaccine is recommended or required for entry.

After receiving the vaccine, you will receive a signed and stamped International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP), which you must bring with you on your trip.

The vaccine lasts for life for most people, but a booster after 10 years is recommended for some people.

“As we work past this most recent COVID surge due to the Omicron variant, and there is hope of international travel again, travelers should have no problem finding this vaccine for the foreseeable future.” Dr. Armitage says.

Related Links

Most travelers don’t stop to think that a health condition – something contagious, an accident or even an existing condition – could ruin their trip and have potentially devastating consequences on their lives and their health. As borders reopen, and you think about your next trip abroad, make an appointment with the Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine and Global Health. Our globally recognized physicians are ready to help you prepare for your next trip.

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