It’s Wellness Wednesday! Today we’re learning about a travel topic might be pretty far down on your list of travel thoughts: immunizations! You might think about getting shots and malaria pills if you’re heading to Africa, but what about South America or Southeast Asia? No matter where you go, preparation is key!*
1. How do I know what immunizations I need?
- Check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel
- Put in what country you’re going to in the “For Travelers” section, and the website will list the vaccinations you need!
2. How soon do I need to get my immunizations?
- That depends on the immunization. Some have to be administered within a certain timeframe, or you may need a series of three or four shots weekly or bi-weekly. As soon as you decide where to go and look up your travel visa requirements, your next step should be to find out exactly what immunizations you need!
3. Where can I get these immunizations?
- Believe it or not, you can’t get all your travel immunizations from your regular doctor. The CDC has a tool on their website to help you find a travel immunization clinic near you: Find a Clinic.
4. Do I have to get vaccinated before every trip?
Good news: NO! Many of your shots and oral immunizations are good for 5-10 years, and in some cases, for life. And many countries you may want to visit do not require more than the routine vaccinations for the United States.
5. How am I going to keep up with what’s what and when I had my vaccinations?
- When you start getting your vaccinations, your nurse should give you a “yellow card” that was created just for that purpose. Your nurse will write down the medication, the date it was administered, and their initials. I keep mine in my passport cover, and some people even staple it in the back of their passport. Some countries will not let you in without seeing your yellow card and checking to see that you’ve had the appropriate immunizations for that country!
So what’s the best way to protect yourself from some of the most common travel-related illnesses? Check out the list below! And remember to ask your pharmacist if any of your current medications will interact poorly with travel medications.
- Drink Only Bottled Water: Water-borne illnesses are almost completely eradicated in the U.S., but not so much in other countries for a variety of reasons. Just to be safe, make sure you budget for bottled water, or ask if your hotel provides bottled or filtered water to refill a reusable water bottle.
- Use DEET: The best way to avoid mosquito- and other bug-related illnesses (Zika, malaria, Japanese Encephalitis, Lyme disease, and more) is DEET. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a DEET lotion instead of an aerosol spray because the spray will evaporate too quickly to be the most effective. Also wear long sleeves if you can take the heat, and make sure whatever repellent you use has at least 30% DEET in it. Click the photo below to order the lotion recommended to me by a travel immunization nurse!
- Yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitos, so please see the DEET section above and pack your insect repellent! There are vaccine options, but if you still get it, it is treatable. Some countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination on your yellow card to enter the country, so be sure you get a yellow vaccination card as proof of vaccination. If you don’t have proof, they may vaccinate you at customs, which is risky because the vaccination takes time to work, and you don’t know if their needles have been sterilized between yourself and the person before you. The vaccine is good for 10 years, though some sources claim it’s good for life!
- There is no vaccination for malaria, but it is also mosquito-transferred, and there are preventative treatments in the form of pills. Some malaria pills have nasty potential side effects, and some pills require you to keep taking them for a month after you return from an at-risk area. Ask your travel nurse about the option that is best for you. If not treated properly, symptoms can return throughout your life, which actually happened to my grandmother after she contracted malaria in the state of Georgia in the 1940s. I also know of a girl who got malaria in the Dominican Republic while on a family vacation a couple of years ago. Bet she thought she didn’t need vaccinations for such a popular travel spot, huh? Also note that malaria prevention only lasts as long as you are taking the prescription.
- Rabies is a real problem in some countries, but because the vaccine has to be administered in three parts and at predetermined time intervals, and because it can be costly, many people going to these areas just risk it and don’t get vaccinated. Your risk of getting rabies is generally low if you don’t go near wild animals, but there is always a chance of the unexpected when you travel. Rabies in humans works relatively quickly and causes brain damage and ultimately death. I chose to get the series of vaccinations for this reason.
- If you are bitten by a rabid animal and have not been pre-vaccinated, you must go to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible (do NOT wait until symptoms occur) and get the much more expensive immune globulin shot. If you have been vaccinated and are bitten by a rabid animal, you must still go to the nearest hospital and receive a less expensive rabies booster shot. The rabies vaccine is good for 10 years.
- A person can be exposed to typhoid fever if they ingest contaminated food or water. You will be at risk in developing countries, but you can get vaccinated with a shot or take prescription pills. I chose to take the pill form because it lasts longer than the shot. However, you should still be careful about what you eat or drink wherever you go. The shot is good for 2 years and require a booster every two years, and the pill form is good for 5 years, with a booster dose needed every 5 years thereafter. Just make sure you refrigerate the pills and follow the instructions to the letter. You don’t want to get this one wrong!
Hepatitis A and B
- These vaccines are very common in America, so you may have been vaccinated for these already; however, you should definitely check your records and ask your doctor about them if will be traveling to places where Hepatitis A and B are more common. All forms of hepatitis cause liver damage. You can get the virus from contaminated food, water, or people with the virus (who may not even know they have it). The Hepatitis A vaccine requires a series of two shots, while the Hepatitis B vaccine requires a series of three shots; both series have to be given at specific intervals, so consult your doctor or travel vaccination nurse. Both vaccines are good for life.
- What’s TDAP stand for? Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (aka whooping cough). These illnesses are rare in the United States because these vaccines are routine for us, but that’s not the case everywhere. One shot prevents all three, and it’s good for 10 years.
- This is for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. Again, these are less common in the States than they are in other countries, but if you are infected, the diseases can cause severe illness or even death. The MMR vaccine is good for 20 years.
Have you been vaccinated for travel? Have you or anyone you know gotten sick because they didn’t know they needed vaccinations?
*All the information above was found on the CDC and WHO websites, as well as licensed pharmacists and travel immunization nurses. Please check with your doctor or health care professional for further information and to find out what’s best for you!
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