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“Risk of Outbreaks High”: Tourists Warned of Deadly Disease Spread by Mosquitoes

So far this year, several countries in South America—including tourism heavy hitters like Colombia and Peru—have reported cases of yellow fever, a potentially deadly virus that’s spread by mosquitoes. Parts of Africa and the Caribbean have also been affected. 

The situation prompted the British government’s Department of Health to issue an updated advisory last week on its TravelHealthPro website for tourists and health professionals, warning of the potentially fatal disease’s spread and recommending vaccination for vacationers headed to certain parts of the world. 

Since the start of 2024, three people in Colombia and one person in Peru have died of yellow fever, according to the notice, with other cases confirmed in Guyana and Brazil. As a result, “risk of [yellow fever] outbreaks in South America is high,” the warning states. 

In Africa, meanwhile, 13 countries—Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, Togo, and Uganda—have reported probable or confirmed yellow fever cases since the start of last year, per data from the World Health Organization

The Caribbean island of Trinidad is cited as an area of concern as well. 

The World Health Organization explains that after being bitten by a mosquito carrying yellow fever, a person may develop flu-like symptoms after 3 to 6 days. In most cases, symptoms disappear 3 to 4 days later. 

But a small percentage of patients enter a second, more severe phase of the disease about a day after having seemingly recovered. This dangerous toxic phase can include jaundice—the yellowing of the skin and eyes that gave the disease its name—as well as bleeding, organ failure, and, in some cases, death. 

The good news is that there’s a vaccine, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a single dose “protects most people for life.”

For travelers, all the public health organizations mentioned above recommend finding out whether getting vaccinated for yellow fever is recommended—or required—for your vacation destination. 

Both the British government and the U.S. CDC maintain maps showing where in Africa and South America a yellow fever vaccine is recommended. At the CDC’s travel site, you can also search by destination to find yellow fever information and advice for any country in the world.  

Another wise move: Take steps to prevent mosquito bites as much as possible when you travel.

Those murderous creepy-crawlies can spread all sorts of horrible illnesses, anyway, so travelers will want to take precautions such as using EPA-approved insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants when possible, and sleeping behind window screens or mosquito netting when appropriate.