A Traveler’s Guide to Immunizations: Which Vaccines You Need for Your Trip
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I was two weeks out from arriving in South America when I realized I would need to produce a Yellow Fever Certificate. I was horrified at the thought. Proof that I had already been stabbed 4 years earlier existed somewhere, though for the life of me I couldn’t find that little yellow book. It had likely been misplaced after my Africa trip, or probably even thrown out.
Crap. Which vaccinations do I need when traveling to South America
One of the few mandatory vaccinations for many South American destinations, not having proof of the vaccine meant I was going to have to take it again. A costly and particularly nasty injection, it was bad enough having been subjected to this needle once, let alone a second time, which could have been prevented if I had harbored the sense to keep my documentation in line.
Though in my desperation to avoid a second jab at all costs, a light-bulb moment occured. I went out on a limb and phoned Australia from the States on the off chance my travel clinic kept records which dated back to 2010. They did. They were happy to produce a copy of my Yellow Fever Certificate at a $15 charge…though I had to personally pick it up.
Crap. Which vaccinations do I need when traveling to Africa
After some heavy bribes, my sister visited the clinic on my behalf, and posted the newly issued certificate to me in the States. It arrived two days before we were set to depart. List of vaccinations for travelers
Moral of the Story
Image credit: Pan American Health
The moral of the story is two-fold. Firstly, it’s wise to immunize. No matter what country you’re from and how experienced a traveler you are, the bottom line is you’ll probably need some immunizations before you visit developing countries. Do not leave this to the last minute or forget.
It is generally advised to plan your shots in advance since it can take as much as 4-6 weeks for vaccines to take full effect. Additionally, some may involve more than one shot, and sometimes you need a few days to recover from any potential side effects. List of immunizations for travelers
Countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe probably won’t require any extra vaccines, though if traveling through Asia, Latin America, or Africa, you may need a typhoid vaccine. Or a mandatory yellow fever shot. Which countries require a yellow fever shot?
Countries which enforce the yellow fever vaccine as mandatory will require a certificate of proof at passport control, otherwise they may administer it to you on the spot. And I would personally much prefer an injection to be administered in a hygienic local clinic rather than an unknown backroom in the airport of a developing country where the needle may have been used a repeated number of times. Do I need a yellow fever vaccine for
Secondly, your health records are just as important as your passport, and you should as such treat them that way. Losing track of them will likely mean being subjected to a continual string of doctors chairs before each trip, and I’ve never met a single person who has outright enjoyed the experience of paying to be stabbed in the arm. Do I need a yellow fever certificate for
A Travelers Guide to Immunizations
Simply put, immunizations help protect you from some of the diseases you may be exposed to on your travels, and it’s better to be prepared than scared.
The “Travelers’ Health” section of the CDC’s web site is a fantastic resource for destination specific advice relating to immunizations and vaccines. You can search based on where you’re going and any special needs you may have, such as whether you take medicines that affect your immune system, or you’re pregnant, and the site also includes a “healthy travel packing list” based on what country you’re planning to visit.
As a general rule you’ll want to be up to date on all of the usual vaccines that you get for everyday life in your home country. The same diseases are generally prevalent in other countries too, so if you go to the effort of protecting yourself at home, you should also get them for when you’re away. If you head to your travel doctor you can organize to have a group of shots and cover everything all at once.
Be wary of advice on immunizations issued by embassies or travel agents. Advice which states “no immunizations are needed” from these sources means that you won’t be asked to present a vaccination certificate on entry into the country, though it’s still likely you will need shots for your own health and safety.
The Most Common Immunizations for Travelers
Yellow Fever is a disease found in subtropical areas of Africa and South America. This is a viral infection spread by mosquito’s, and the name comes from a complication of the disease which turns the skin yellow.
The vaccine is highly successful in preventing the disease, and the immunization is good for 10 years.
Symptoms include sudden fever, chills, headaches, back pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Symptoms can then become much more severe and include high fever, visible bleeding, skin discoloration and kidney and liver failure; death is due to multi-organ failure.
Yellow fever has been declared a risk in 43 countries, and proof of vaccination for travel may be required as a condition of entry. To avoid mosquito’s, use insect repellent, and wear light coloured, full coverage clothing where possible.
Typhoid fever occurs in many areas around the world, especially Asia (except Japan), Africa, and South America. The vaccine reduces the risk of getting typhoid, and it lasts several years.
Food and water precautions also reduce the risk of disease.
Hepatitis A is a common disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. All travelers should be protected against it. People get sick two to six weeks after they get the virus, and symptoms include nausea, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, pale stools, loss of appetite, and fatigue. It could take up to six months to fully recover.
The disease is spread by mistakenly ingesting human waste, for instance shaking hands with someone with contaminated hands and then touching your mouth, via sexual contact or through contaminated needles or the transfer of blood. It is prevalent throughout the world, though more common in developing countries.
The vaccine is incredibly effective, and you can generally now combine a Hep A and typhoid vaccine which will help cut down on the number of injections you need to take.
Hepatitis B is recommended for long term travellers to hot spots which include Africa, China, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. You might also need it if you’re going to be working as a medic or nurse, or if needle sharing or sexual contact is a possibility at your destination.
This immunisation is given routinely to children in some countries, including Australia and the USA. A combined hepatitis A and B vaccine is available if you need to have both.
Malaria is another serious and potentially life threatening infection spread to people by mosquito’s. Any person who lives in or travels to a country where malaria is present is at risk of contracting the disease.
Malaria is present in approximately 100 countries – mainly in Africa, South America, Asia and the Pacific, and remains a major problem in the world’s tropical regions. It is more prevalent in rural areas, and mosquitoes usually bite between dusk and dawn.
Prevent malaria by avoiding mosquito bites, and with anti-malaria medication which can be obtained from your doctor before you go overseas.
While not a vaccine, preventative medication is very important, and some medications must be started two weeks before departure, so make sure you plan to see your doctor or travel clinic well in advance. Anti-malaria medications vary, as do their side effects. Consult your doctor.
Polio is an important vaccine for those traveling to countries within Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East – the list of infected countries is constantly changing, as some countries successfully eliminate the infection and others become reinfected.
This is a viral illness which can lead to neurological problems like weakness and paralysis. It is spread from person to person via bodily fluids and feces.
Rabies vaccinations are recommended for travelers who visit rural areas, and for those spending time around wildlife or handling animals – the disease is spread via an animal bite.
With this immunisation you can choose to have it before you go, or after your get bitten.
Cholera is not a generally recommended immunization anymore, but travelers providing humanitarian aid to underdeveloped areas, or areas were sanitation and water supply is disrupted by disaster, should be aware of the risk.
Cholera is spread by bacteria when human waste contaminates water and food. It is most common in areas that have poor sanitation, with faulty sewage systems or contaminated drinking water. Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been affected for several decades.
Ebola is a disease which has caused widespread panic throughout the world quite recently, however there is no vaccination.
Travelers who visit a country with Ebola outbreaks (ie to Sierra Leone and Guinea) should protect themselves by avoiding contact with the blood and body fluids of people who are sick.
Just as some countries won’t let you in without your yellow fever certificate, a growing list of countries won’t let you in without health insurance. This is as such equally as important to organize before you leave.
If you have no idea where to start, head on over to our post which details what to look for when purchasing international health insurance.
Domestic health plans don’t cover international travel, so it’s essential to take out a policy which specifically covers you for your time abroad. Make sure that emergency evacuation, terrorism coverage and repatriation of remains is included in your plan.
Pro Tip: We go through Tim Jennings at Individual Health for insurance with #GeoBlue – they have a network of elite doctors in over 180 countries, a hugely helpful mobile app for when you’re sick abroad, and make their best attempt to arrange direct payment no matter which medical provider you see.
If you do fall ill from any of the above diseases, you need international health insurance which will come through. For more information on insurance with #GeoBlue contact Timothy Jennings at email@example.com or click for a free quote.
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