Which Vaccinations Do You Need?
Vaccinations work by exposing your body to the disease after the disease has been disarmed. This allows your body to build up its own protection and fight the disease. This takes time, so make an appointment to see your doctor or travel clinic 6 – 8 weeks before travelling.
Yellow fever is the only immunization that the International Health Regulations of the World Health Organization require for travellers. Yellow fever is typically transmitted through mosquito bites in warmer climates; if you’re going to sub-Saharan Africa or certain countries in South America, you will have to get a yellow fever vaccination.
Make sure you have an internationally recognised Vaccination Certificate and keep it up to date.
Hepatitis B vaccinations are recommended for travel to certain countries in Europe (such as Spain, Portugal and Eastern Europe), Asia, Africa and South America. This vaccination is also recommended for travel to northern destinations such as Alaska, Greenland and Russia.
Rabies vaccinations are recommended for travellers who will be exploring caves or spending a lot of time outdoors or in rural areas.
Hepatitis A vaccinations are recommended for people visiting developing countries in regions such as Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, the South Pacific, and South and Central America.
Typhoid is a particular risk for travellers to South Asia, as well as those visiting other nations in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Although no vaccine exists for malaria, travellers to Central or South America, Africa, parts of Asia, or the South Pacific should look into taking the appropriate preventative drug regimen. Anti-malaria treatment is not 100 percent effective and travellers should go over their itineraries with their doctors before starting, as certain anti-malarial drugs can have unpleasant side effects. Always wear protective clothing and repellent, and take extra care at dawn and dusk.
Why do you need vaccinations?
There are three kinds of vaccines for travel: routine (which you should have had as a child), advisable (if you’re travelling to countries that have the disease) and mandatory (you’ll need it before they let you into the country).
Routine vaccinations are those that should be kept up-to-date no matter what, even in-between trips. These include such things as whooping cough, measles, tetanus, diphtheria and polio. They haven’t been eradicated, and outbreaks do occur, even close to home, so if you haven’t had these shots in years, check with your doctor – some of them require boosters every few years.
There are a number of advisable international travel vaccinations – getting these depends on whether the areas you’re headed for are known to have this disease. Here is a brief overview of the most common diseases:
Hepatitis A is caused by contaminated food. Be especially vigilant with seafood (it could come from polluted water), and make sure all food is cooked properly and your water clean. Wash your hands often. It is potentially deadly, especially if you’re over 50. The vaccination is very effective.
Hepatitis B, on the other hand, is a sexually-transmitted infection that affects the liver. It is passed through sex, blood and saliva, including unscreened blood transfusions, tattoos, sharing needles or from mother to child. It is difficult to treat so engage in safe sex, bring new syringes if you’re travelling for any length of time and don’t go near needles unless you’re sure they’re sterile. Take a doctor’s prescription: you don’t want border guards assuming you’re an injecting drug user.
A certain type of meningitis (group A) is a serious threat to travellers and can be deadly, so vaccination is a must if you’re travelling to a region with an outbreak – check first. The disease is spread by an infected person who coughs or sneezes.
You can catch rabies if you’re bitten or scratched by an infected animal, usually dogs, foxes or bats – so stay away from animals you don’t know. If you’re planning on visiting an infected area, get a rabies vaccine. It won’t stop the disease but might buy you time. This is a serious one so if you are bitten or scratched, go to a doctor immediately. It is curable, but will kill you if you don’t get immediate medical care.
Catching cholera is relatively difficult – it is spread by a bug through water and food contaminated by sewage, but it takes a lot of bugs to get sick, so the chances are you won’t catch it unless there’s an epidemic where you’re going. Cholera can provoke severe diarrhoea, dehydration and even death, but proper hygiene should prevent it as long as there’s no epidemic present. Like hepatitis A, cholera can be caught from raw or undercooked food, especially seafood from dirty water.
Another illness spread by food and water – this time contaminated by faeces – is typhoid. As is the case with cholera, it is easily treatable with antibiotics and there is an effective vaccine. Be particularly vigilant where hygiene is minimal.
Japanese encephalitis is rare and found only in the Far East. This isn’t a common vaccination for travellers so check the situation before you go.
Always check with a medical professional about whether you need international travel vaccinations, and which ones.
The only mandatory jab these days is the yellow fever vaccine for entry into some developing countries, or if coming from a country where yellow fever is present. Most multi-country travel in the developing world will require this vaccination.
Yellow fever is a viral infection spread by mosquito bites. Unlike malaria, you can catch it both in the city and in rural areas, although it tends to be limited to the interior of countries. Also unlike malaria, these mosquitoes bite in daytime. There is no treatment for it, although you can get care for some of its symptoms – jaundice and kidney failure, for example.