Symptoms of Yellow Fever

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Yellow fever is named for two of its main symptoms: Fever and the possibility of jaundice, which causes the skin and eyes to take on a yellowish tinge.

However, this condition can come with many other symptoms including a headache, body aches, vomiting, fatigue, and in severe cases the failure of multiple organs, which can be fatal. Fortunately, most cases never become severe.

yellow fever symptoms
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Frequent Symptoms

Many people who contract a mild case of yellow fever will never even know it because they won't have any symptoms at all. Others with a mild case will get sick between three and six days after they're infected.

Stage 1

Yellow fever either has a single stage or progresses through three stages. Stage 1 is what starts after that three to six day incubation period.

The initial symptoms of yellow fever come on quickly and can include any of the following:

  • High fever
  • Chills
  • A severe headache
  • Back pain
  • Widespread body aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

These symptoms generally last for just a few days, generally two to four. After that, they go away.

Most people get better and stay better—the disease doesn't progress any further.

But in rare cases, it progresses to further stages, which have their own set of symptoms.

Rare Symptoms

Only around 15% of people who get yellow fever develop severe illness, broadly described as the toxic stage of Infection. If stage 1 progresses, there will be a brief period of remission in which the person will feel well for about 24 to 48 hours.

Stage 2 occurs between 6 and 11 days from the initial infection when symptoms suddenly come rushing back. They're not exactly the same, though.

Toxic stage symptoms can include:

  • Return of a high fever
  • Possible jaundice (yellowing) due to damage to the liver
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Dark urine
  • Abdominal pain with vomiting
  • Bleeding from the gums, nose, eyes, and/or stomach
  • Bloody stools
  • Bloody vomit
  • Easily bruised skin
  • Confusion
  • Shock
  • Kidney, liver, or other organ failure
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Coma is possible
  • Death is possible

Between 20 percent and 50 percent of the people who go on to this phase of the disease die within the next week or two.

Complications

Babies and people over 50 years old are more likely than others to develop severe symptoms and to die from yellow fever, making prevention especially important for those age groups. Some people are also just more susceptible than others, and some strains of the disease are more serious than others.

However, in those who survive yellow fever—which is the vast majority of those who are infected—the illness goes away and the organ damage heals.

Some people will have weakness and fatigue that continues for several months, but then they, too, will completely recover.

Once you've had yellow fever, you're generally immune to it and won't be infected again even if you're exposed.

When to See a Doctor

If you've been to a region where yellow fever is a risk and you begin developing stage 1 symptoms, call your doctor for advice on how to take care of yourself.

If you begin to experience symptoms of stage 3, get emergency medical attention right away. There's no specific treatment for this illness but it's important to have proper monitoring and care to prevent the worst-case scenario.

Yellow fever sounds scary, but remember that the toxic stage is rare and most people survive it.

If 100 people contract yellow fever during an outbreak in a city, that means about 15 would move on to stages 2 and 3. Depending on factors like age, susceptibility, the specific strain, and the quality of available medical care, at least three people and possibly as many as seven or eight would die.

While those deaths are tragic, don't forget the big picture. Your odds of survival are high if you do contract the illness. Of course, it's better not to risk it at all, which means getting the vaccine before going into high-risk areas and doing what you can to prevent mosquito bites.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the common symptoms of yellow fever?

    Not everyone who gets yellow fever will develop symptoms. Of those that do, the majority of cases are relatively mild. Signs and symptoms may include:

    • Headache
    • Fever and chills
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle aches (particularly in the back or back of the knees)
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Loss of appetite
  • What are symptoms of the toxic stage of yellow fever?

    The second stage of yellow fever, called the toxic stage, occurs in around 15% of cases. This stage is characterized by a systemic infection involving the liver, kidneys, brain, and other organ systems. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • How soon do yellow fever symptoms appear?

    Symptoms of yellow fever usually develop within three to seven days of being bitten by an infected mosquito. For the 15% who experience toxic-stage infection, symptoms will develop one to two days after the initial symptoms have gone into apparent remission, only to rebound with more severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms.

  • How long do yellow fever symptoms last?

    Mild cases of yellow fever often resolve within three to four days. Among those who enter the toxic stage, a longer duration of symptoms translates to a higher risk of death. Therefore, every effort is made to provide aggressive supportive care to help prevent or reduce the impact of liver or kidney failure.

  • What is the risk of death from yellow fever?

    The overall risk of death from yellow fever is between 3% and 7.5%. If jaundice or kidney failure develop, the risk increases to between 20% and 50%. If the infection is severe and persists for more than seven days, the risk of death climbs to 50% or higher.

  • Can you be reinfected with yellow fever?

    People who recover from yellow fever have long-lasting immunity and usually cannot be infected again. The same applies to anyone who has been vaccinated. Once recovered, people will usually experience no organ damage or significant aftermath.

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Article Sources
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