Now that we can finally start thinking about traveling again, let’s talk about travel vaccines. In our modern world, over one million people travel internationally every single day. In many countries, vaccine-preventable diseases are still common even though they may not be common in North America. Without vaccines, epidemics of many preventable diseases will return, resulting in increased illnesses, deaths, and a lower quality of life for anyone affected.
In this post, I want to help you by answering five common questions related to travel vaccines.
Question 1: What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is a way to make your body stronger by using the natural defense system. A vaccine trains your immune system to create antibodies to a particular disease. According to the World Health Organization, vaccines only contain killed or weakened forms of the germs that cause the disease, so they do not put you at risk for complications.
Question 2: Why are vaccines important?
Vaccines are important to protect us from over twenty diseases found throughout the world. It is estimated that these vaccines save up to three million lives each year. When we get vaccinated, we are protecting ourselves, but we are also protecting those around us. Some people who are very ill cannot get vaccines, so they depend on the larger population to eradicate the disease.
Questions 3: Why are vaccines important when traveling?
Vaccines are important when traveling to ensure the public health of a different country. You don’t want to bring a disease to them. Likewise, you don’t want to get sick from a disease that has not yet been eradicated in that country.
Question 4: What vaccinations should I be thinking about?
There are many vaccinations you should consider before traveling. The following list is just a few to think about and why they are important:
- Cholera: Generally spreads through contaminated water or food. Anyone who is visiting a rural area with potentially unclean water or low resource medical centers; medical workers who could come in contact with bodily fluids; people with certain at-risk health factors.
- Hepatitis A: Infects the liver, usually spread through contaminated water or food. Unlike other Hepatitis, it does not become a chronic condition. This vaccine is recommended for everyone over the age of one year old.
- Japanese encephalitis is found throughout Asia and is spread through mosquito bites. It occurs throughout east Asia, so it is recommended for anyone traveling to that area of the world as well.
- Polio: a potentially deadly disease that enters the brain and the spinal cord and can cause paralysis, permanent disability, and death. Spread through person to person contact, including food and water, coughing, and sneezing. The CDC recommends everyone receive the Polio vaccine.
- Rabies: transmitted through animals and often deadly once symptoms are present. Spread through the saliva of an infected animal entering a person’s bloodstream. Rabies is found all over the world, so if you plan to travel to a location with elevated levels, vaccinate before you go.
- Typhoid: spread through contaminated food or water. Caused by Salmonella typhi, it is an acute illness that can result in death in up to ten percent of patients. Almost all international travelers are recommended to receive the typhoid vaccine, especially if traveling to an area that has drug-resistant forms of the disease, which includes large parts of Africa and Asia.
- Yellow Fever Vaccine is required for entry into many countries, including Ghana and Brazil. It is a mosquito-borne viral disease that is present in South America and Africa. It has a high mortality rate, which is why it is sometimes required for entry into particular countries.
- Other non-vaccine conditions to think about before travel: Traveler’s diarrhea, malaria, Dengue, and motion sickness.
There are things you can do before and during your trip to treat and protect yourself:
- Take care when eating and drinking - only drink/use safe water
- Wash your hands often
- Be sure food has been cooked thoroughly
- Peel any fruits or vegetables before eating and wash with clean water
- Consider an antimalarial drug before you go. Malaria is considered one of the deadliest diseases in history, with 400,000 deaths each year.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing long sleeves and pants, utilizing mosquito nets, mosquito repellent, and keeping windows closed.
- For motion sickness, be prepared with a medication that can treat symptoms, utilize visual fixation, avoid reading while moving, and sleep while moving in order to avoid the symptoms. Find more information at Passport Health USA.
Question 5: When should you get vaccinated?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, You should consider getting vaccinated at least a month before you travel. See your doctor when you start to plan your trip abroad. It’s important to do this well in advance. Why? Because your body needs time to build up immunity. You may need several weeks to get all the doses of the vaccine. Your primary doctor may not stock travel vaccines. You might consider visiting a travel medical clinic. You’ll need time to prepare for your pre-travel appointment. If the country you visit requires a yellow fever vaccine, only a limited number of clinics have the vaccine and will probably be some distance from where you live. You must get this vaccine at least 10 days before travel.
More resources about vaccinations: