What to Know When Traveling to a Country With Yellow Fever

Werner Büchel/Getty Images

Everything you need to know before traveling to a country that has documented cases of yellow fever.

There are a few major topics that likely cross your mind—aside from the fun things, like what you’ll eat and where you’ll stay!—when booking an international trip. Perhaps the most important on this list is health and safety. And while there’s been a lot of talk (for good reason) around the threat of the Zika virus for travelers heading to warm destinations, depending on where you’re going, yellow fever virus (YFV) may be something you need to think about.

If you’re planning a vacation to parts of West Africa or Central / South America, this single-strand RNA virus is something that should be on your radar, and there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting the virus. Of course, there are a handful of reputable resources on the Internet that you can and should consult before booking travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, provides thorough details about the disease, how it gets transmitted, and a list of countries (all within Africa and Central and South America) that present a risk of the virus. Check the list, take a look at the map, and give the information a good read before you sort out the details of your journey.

Our quick tips for how to prepare for destinations affected by YFV, below.

Related: Where to Have a Zika-free Caribbean Vacation

Vaccinations

First things first: if you know there is a risk of yellow fever within the country that you’re traveling to, it’s best to seek out the proper vaccination (available in the United States for those over nine months of age) before departure. In general, once you get the vaccination you should be set for life; however there are several exceptions to the rule: women who were pregnant upon receiving the initial vaccination should get a booster before next traveling to a country with risk of YFV, as well as those who received the vaccination before a hematopoietic stem cell transplant. Additionally, those who had HIV while receiving their first vaccination should re-vaccinate every ten years.

The manufacturer of YF-Vax (the vaccination licensed within the U.S.) reports that this vaccination will be available again mid-2019. In the meantime, an equally effective YFV vaccination, Stamaril, is accessible at limited clinics throughout the country.  If you plan to travel to an area with risk of YFV, consult the CDC’s YFV clinic locator, as well as your physician, about receiving the vaccine well before you plan to travel.

Consider Seasons

Seasons don’t just dictate your packing list—they also determine when the risk of YFV is highest. According to the CDC, in West Africa there is an elevated risk of transmission between July and October (the start of the dry season). In South America, risks are highest during the rainy season (which is January through May, peaking in February and March). However, just because you’re not traveling during the highest-risk month doesn’t mean you should forgo a vaccination. Take note that in South America, the virus-transmitting mosquitoes in the forest canopies don’t interact with humans as often as mosquitos do in parts of West Africa, so the risk is somewhat lower in South American countries.

Avoid Mosquito Bites and Prepare for the Outdoors

If you’re planning to spend ample time outdoors on your trip, be sure to invest in a good insect repellent and dress appropriately (i.e. long sleeves, pants, high socks) in order to protect your skin as effectively as possible. If you can, stay in accommodations that offer air conditioning or sufficient screens, so that you don’t have to open windows.