Yellow fever and malaria are both viral conditions given to humans by mosquitoes and share similar symptoms. Malaria is one of the most common viral diseases in the world and both diseases are an important concern for public health officials in developing nations. Both diseases are preventable and travelers to infected areas should take every precaution before and during a trip.
Both yellow fever and malaria are common in developing nations where vaccines are not readily available. The yellow fever vaccine, which is good for 10 years, has caused some improvement, but is expensive and therefore not accessible for large, poverty-stricken populations. Because there is no vaccination for malaria, prophylactic treatments are used by travelers. Such treatments are not reasonable for use by native populations because of the necessary frequency of use and prevalence of malaria.
Whereas malaria can occur in any tropic or subtropic area, yellow fever occurs only in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. There, it is endemic and occasionally is the cause of an epidemic. Travelers to these regions should be careful to understand their risk, and to take precautions to prevent contracting the disease.
Symptoms of malaria and yellow fever are similar. Patients may experience chills, headaches, back pain, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea and weakness. For malaria, the virus has an incubation period of 7 to 30 days; for yellow fever, the incubation period is 3 to 6 days. For both diseases, symptoms generally appear in a week.
Both malaria and yellow fever can have serious complications. In serious cases of yellow fever, infected persons may experience myocardial dysfunction, hypotension, shock, metabolic acidosis and cardiac arrhythmia. In the worst cases, seizures and coma can also occur. In serious malaria cases, acute kidney failure and metabolic acidosis can occur.
Travelers can reduce their risk of contracting yellow fever or malaria by protecting themselves from mosquitos. Use a mosquito repellant that contains the chemical DEET, and wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves to reduce the amount of exposed skin. Travelers should use mosquito netting when sleeping, and avoid travel near standing water. A vaccine is available for yellow fever and travelers can take prophylactic drugs to prevent malaria.