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Yellow Fever

The information in NORD’s Rare Disease Database is for educational purposes only. It should never be used for diagnostic or treatment purposes. If you have questions regarding a medical condition, always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional. NORD’s reports provide a brief overview of rare diseases. For more specific information, we encourage you to contact your personal physician or the agencies listed as “Resources” on this report.

Copyright 1990, 2000, 2009

Synonyms of Yellow Fever

Disorder Subdivisions

General Discussion

Yellow Fever is a viral infection that causes damage to the liver, kidney, heart and gastrointestinal tract. Major symptoms may include sudden onset of fever, yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and hemorrhage. It occurs predominately in South America, the Caribbean Islands and Africa. The disease is spread through bites of infected mosquitos. Incidence of the disease tends to increase in the summer as the mosquito population increases, and it occurs year round in tropical climates.

Yellow Fever has two cycles: the sylvan cycle in which mosquitos primarily spread the disease among forest-dwelling primates, and the urban cycle in which the infection is spread from human to human.


The symptoms of Yellow Fever are the sudden onset of fever and chills along with headache, backache, generalized pain, nausea, vomiting, flushed face and infection of the inner eyelid. The fever usually disappears after three days, reappearing several days later with new symptoms of jaundice, bleeding gums, soft palate hemorrhages, and the vomiting of blood (black vomit). The patient may go into shock during this phase.

Yellow Fever may also appear in a mild form with symptoms resembling influenza, malaria, dengue fever or typhoid. In this case, the fever usually lasts less than one week.


Yellow Fever is caused by a virus spread by the bite by an infected mosquito. Initially, a mosquito acquires the disease by ingesting the blood of an infected host. The mosquito then transmits the infection to its next bite victim.

Affected Populations

Yellow Fever affects males and females equally. People living in semitropical or tropical climates are at risk unless they are vaccinated against this infection. People in southern areas of the United States, living near marshes and swamps may be at risk during the summer months. However, most cases of Yellow Fever occur in Africa and South America.

Related Disorders

Symptoms of the following disorders can be similar to those of Yellow Fever. Comparisons may be useful for a differential diagnosis:

Dengue Fever is a disease also transmitted by a mosquito bite and characterized by a skin rash and a high fever with severe pain in the head and muscles. There is a sudden onset of symptoms with pain also occuring in the lower back, legs and joints. (For more information on this disorder, choose "Dengue Fever" as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Viral Encephalitis is a disease characterized by fever, headache, vomiting, rigidity of the neck, lethargy and convulsions. Generalized muscular weakness and paralysis may also occur.

Malaria is a communicable disorder also spread through the bite of a mosquito. Symptoms include chills and fever, although not every case follows the same pattern. Symptoms may begin a week after exposure to the mosquito or months later. (For more information of this disorder, choose "Malaria" as your search term in the Rare Disease Database.)

Standard Therapies

The treatment of Yellow Fever is symptomatic and supportive. Preventative measures consist of mosquito control and a vaccine that prevents development of the infection. Immunity from a vaccination usually develops after 10 days and lasts for more than 10 years. In some cases, side effects associated with vaccination may occur five to 10 days later. These side effects affect approximately 5 percent of individuals receiving immunization and may include headache, fever, and/or aching muscles.

Investigational Therapies

Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government web site.

For information about clinical trials being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:

Tollfree: (800) 411-1222
TTY: (866) 411-1010
Email: prpl@cc.nih.gov

For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:

Yellow Fever Resources



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The Merck Manual, Volume 1, 14th Ed.: Robert Berkow, M.D. ed.-in chief; Merck, Sharp & Dohme Laboratories., 1982. Pp. 120.

Fournier-Caruana J, et al., In vitro potency assay for yellow fever vaccines: comparison of three vero cell lines sources. Biologicals. 2000;28:33-40.

Perraut R, et al., Stability-related studies on 17D yellow fever vaccine. Microbes Infect. 2000;2:33-8.

Tomori O, Impact of yellow fever on the developing world. Adv Virus Res. 1999;53:5-34.

Monath TO, Yellow fever: a medically neglected disease. Report on a seminar. Rev Infect Dis. 1987;9:165-75.

de Souza Lopes O, et al., Studies on yellow fever vaccine. I. Quality control parameters. J Biol Stand. 1987;159:323-9.

Report last updated: 2009/04/10 00:00:00 GMT+0