What is being done about yellow fever? Should children be vaccinated?

Ask an expert
15 August 2005

Q: What is being done about yellow fever? Should children be vaccinated?

A: Vaccination is the single most important measure for preventing yellow fever. The yellow fever 17 D vaccine is safe and highly effective. The protective effect (immunity) occurs within one week in 95% of people vaccinated.

In order to prevent yellow fever outbreaks, WHO recommends:

  • administering yellow fever vaccine in endemic countries as part of routine infant immunization at the age of nine months;
  • preventing outbreaks in high-risk areas through mass vaccination campaigns and control of Aedes aegypti in urban centres.

Because vaccination coverage in many areas is not optimal, WHO recommends:

  • instituting a sensitive and reliable yellow fever surveillance system, including laboratories to analyse blood samples and confirm suspected cases;
  • responding to outbreaks by conducting mass vaccination campaigns.

Yellow fever is a viral haemorrhagic fever transmitted to people by infected mosquitoes. Symptoms range from mild to severe; 20-50% of those with severe illness will die of the disease. The "yellow" in the name is explained by the jaundice that affects some patients, causing yellow eyes and yellow skin.

The virus is endemic in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas. This viral presence can increase into regular epidemics. Historically the disease has caused devastating epidemics in Africa, America and Europe. It is not known why yellow fever has not spread to Asia. An estimated 200 000 people are infected, and 30 000 people die from yellow fever each year.

There is no specific treatment for yellow fever. Dehydration and fever can be treated with oral rehydration salts and paracetamol. Any superimposed bacterial infection should be treated with an appropriate antibiotic.

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