Better safe than sorry. This old catch phrase certainly applies to vaccinations. Anyone excited by any upcoming overseas travel might not want to kill that buzz with multiple shots and some unpleasant side effects, but the consequences of not choosing to vaccinate could make you very sorry indeed. The number of vaccinations you may need depends on where you are going, for how long and what you are planning to do there. Here are a few guidelines for your Vacation Vaccinations when taking an overseas trip.
If you are traveling to the East (far, middle and near), Africa and/or South America then you really should think about seeing a health professional, ideally 3 months before you leave. This is because some of the vaccines may need to be administered over a month. It is also less stressful on your system to vaccinate gradually. A medical professional specializing in travel medicine will have more expertise.
Before you visit it is a good idea to draw up an itinerary and go online. Most countries have a government website that will give you detailed information on the 20 or more communicative diseases which may require immunization and where they are prevalent. You and your doctor should be able to whittle down this daunting list by talking through your plans.
Essential and routine vaccinations
While with the doctor you will be able to check on your current routine immunization status, these are the vaccinations that you probably would have received as a child for measles, mumps, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio. Although these diseases are often rare in your own country they may not be in the countries you plan to visit. You may need a booster shot to top up your immunity. Also, an annual influenza vaccine would avoid coughs and colds on your trip. The last thing you want is to not enjoy your vacation due to having a simple flu.
Vaccines for developing countries
Hepatitis A is a very common disease and so easily contracted that it would be foolish to travel to developing countries without it. It is spread from contaminated hands to water and food. There are a few safety rules worth following – eat hot, well cooked food only; avoid salads and cold or warm food; do not drink tap water or unpasteurized milk. A vaccine for Hepatitis A will last 20 years or more but you need a second vaccination 6 months after the first one.
Typhoid is a particularly nasty disease which is transmitted through food and water and the same common sense safety precautions apply. However, you need to update your typhus vaccination every three years especially if you are an adventurous eater and can’t resist a street stall. Unfortunately it is only 80% effective, so really try to follow safe food and drink rules.
Other vaccines to consider
Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and would be a possible threat if you had to have a blood transfusion in a country where donor blood is not screened. Also it could be transmitted by tattooing or sex. It is now possible to get a hepatitis A and B combined vaccination which does cover all the bases.
Malaria is a mosquito-born disease and is only likely if you are planning travel to an area which has a high risk status and intend to hike and camp out. Malaria cannot be vaccinated against. Prescription drugs are taken before, during and after possible exposure to malarial mosquitoes.
Rabies is also an unlikely possibility in many countries but the risk increases if you are camping, hiking, caving and intending to stay in a rural area for some time. The virus is passed on by a bite from an animal such as a dog or a bat. Immunization for rabies involves 3 injections over a month. Protection lasts 10 plus years.
Yellow fever features on all immunization lists but it is only found in some South America and Africa countries. Again it is only a possibility in rural areas where the mosquitoes are prevalent, and you should get it if you are traveling to these area. Officials in some of the nations require certification of immunization to prevent cross border transmission of the disease. Protection from a vaccine lasts 10 plus years.
Japanese encephalitis is another mosquito born disease which is unlikely but possible. It is found in most of Asia countries specifically in rural areas with poor pest control programs. To be at risk you would need to stay in the area for over a month. The vaccine itself is administered over a month and lasts three years.
Finally some common sense steps you can take to minimize risk.
- Always know and follow safe eating rules.
- Keep your personal hygiene standards high, hand sanitizers and similar products could be useful.
- Cover up and wear a good quality insect repellent applied according to instructions
Last but not least, enjoy your vacation!