International travellers often face health issues which they wouldn’t usually experience in their home country. With a little thought and preparation, you might just have an illness-free exciting international travel.
“Have you got your shots?”
The question is not as inappropriate as it sounds. There are few places on earth you literally can’t visit without getting vaccinated; several countries made vaccinations a mandatory requirement. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Do you really want some wild tropical disease ruining the travel you’ve been planning for months/years?
You should find out in advance whether any specific vaccinations may be recommended for travel to the region of the world you’ll be visiting. It’s also a good time to re-examine your own vaccination history. Travel experts always recommend that no matter where you’re travelling, you should make sure you’re up-to-date on routine vaccinations like T-dap (diphtheria/tetanus/whooping cough), annual flu shots and measles/mumps/rubella.
Not convinced? Think again: The world of infectious diseases is dynamic with unexpected outbreaks. Measles is on the rise in Europe this year and most of the European countries lost their grip on infectious diseases (mostly driven by the anti-vaxxer movement). And you will feel “There’s no place like home” when you encounter a bout of flu on the road.
Vaccinations I need to have before travelling abroad?
Once you decide that your international travel plans, it’s wise to make an appointment with a travel health clinic to discuss your general health and immunization needs. Whether or not you will need particular vaccines, depending on several factors, including:
- Your risk of exposure to diseases in the visiting countries
- Your age, health condition, and vaccination history
- The presence of additional individual risk factors, such as having pre-existing cardiovascular disease, pregnancy or having a condition that might weaken your immune system.
- Length of travel abroad
The World Health Organization and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all travellers be up-to-date with the routine schedule of vaccinations and booster shots. These routine vaccines include:
- Tetanus/ Diphtheria/pertussis (Tdap)
- Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Measles/mumps/rubella (MMR)
Some vaccinations are simply recommended while others are required if travelling to specific countries. Very few vaccines are classified as required (mandatory) by International Health Regulations. The yellow fever vaccination is required for travel to countries in the sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. Meningococcal vaccine is required by Saudi Arabia for pilgrims visiting Mecca and Medina for the annual (Hajj) or at any time (Umrah). Other vaccines, for example, “Recommended” vaccinations are given to protect travellers from illnesses that occur routinely in other parts of the world. Some examples of vaccines that may be recommended for international travellers (remember you may need more or fewer depending on your individual circumstances) include Hepatitis A, rabies, typhoid fever, malaria, Japanese encephalitis etc.
Weigh the costs of vaccinations
Travel experts recommend that before travelling to a developing region, you visit a travel clinic — where the doctors’ major focus is on helping you stay healthy on the road — at least six weeks before your trip. But there’s a catch: routine shots are covered by most health insurance plans, a trip to a travel clinic and vaccines that are recommended or required for travel are usually not.
How long do the vaccinations last?
Many vaccines which are used today are relatively new. Lifelong immunity is not always provided by either vaccination or natural infection (getting the disease). The suggested timing of vaccine doses aims to achieve the best immune protection to cover the period in life when vulnerability to the disease is highest. Waning immunity is a problem for few vaccines. Tetanus needs regular boosters for good protection and you have to get a flu vaccine each and every year. High-risk groups are who travel to southern hemisphere in summer. This is because the flu virus mutates and it is a ruthless master of disguise, usually rendering the previous year’s vaccine partly or totally ineffective.
Recommended Adult Immunizations for Foreign Travel
- Hep A – 2 doses
- Hep B- 3 doses
- HPV – 3 doses
- Typhoid Fever – 1 dose; a booster every 2 years
- Meningococcal – 1 dose
- MMR- 2 doses
- Tdap – 2 doses
- Rabies- 3 doses
- Yellow fever – 1 dose
- Chicken pox – 2 doses
- Influenza- 1 dose
(Read about : Immunization for students going abroad)
Vaccinations are like any other medication in that they can have side effects. These are generally unpleasant rather than unsafe, although very rarely severe allergic reactions can occur. There’s no evidence that they disrupt your immune system in any way.
The most common reactions are mild headaches and fever, soreness around the injection site (sometimes with redness and swelling), and maybe nausea, vomiting or a general feeling of being unwell. Hepatitis A vaccine, for example, can occasionally give you a fever in the evening while tetanus commonly gives you a sore arm.
What to do for diseases for which there are no vaccines?
Vaccines are available for only a few of the diseases. For instance, there are no vaccines for malaria, ebola, dengue fever, dysentery sexually transmitted infections (STIs) etc.
Malaria, for example, is present in over 100 countries and 40% of the World’s population is at risk. Large areas of Southern and central America, the Middle East, Africa, India, Southeast Asia and Oceania are considered malaria risk areas. There is not a vaccine available for malaria, but your doctor can prescribe preventive or prophylactic antimalarial medications. Always consult your doctor or a reputed travel clinic for advice on diseases without vaccinations.
While we’re talking about tropical diseases and staying healthy on the road, think also about Travel insurance as the peace of mind it buys is worth every penny. Whatever you may decide for vaccination but you should make sure to travel abroad with insurance. Don’t let the extra money deter you from making the investment of travel insurance and it’s a true travel essential, alongside your passport and money. However, read the entire policy before purchasing and international travel is not a time you want any shockers. Keep in mind that most insurance is sold in packages, so it’s important to comb through the inclusions in each to pick the package best tailored for you.
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