The 411 on destination-specific immunizations for a healthy, happy journey.
Congratulations! You’ve booked your dream vacation and are busily creating checklists of must-dos, like unearthing your passport and locating your luggage. In the midst of shopping for a new resort wardrobe and getting your body ready for the beach, don’t forget that travel to far-flung destinations often requires certain immunizations as well. Whether you’re ziplining in Zanzibar or surfing in Sydney, be sure to place immunization exploration at the top of your trip to-do list.
Roadmap to Research
A good place to begin your research is to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, cdc.gov/travel, to find out which immunizations are required for travel to your chosen destination. Dr. Jeffrey Band, an expert on infectious diseases and travel medicine at Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak, MI, notes that you can find a wealth of information about requirements and recommendations for the use of vaccines, but they are very general, so you need to understand your own individual needs. He advises that you should ensure all your routine immunizations are up to date, review your personal medical history, and visit a local travel doctor who can expertly guide you through the process.
When to Begin
“The most efficient way to get immunizations is to start early, says Dr. Michael Zimring, a Baltimore-based travel medicine expert and co-author of Healthy Travel: Don’t Travel Without It! (Basic Health Publications). “You should see a travel doctor at least six weeks before the start of the trip, but six months [in advance is best] if you want [immunization against] hepatitis B.” He notes that the most common travel diseases are hepatitis A, malaria, traveler’s diarrhea, and dengue fever, adding that most are prevented by or treated with pills.
Dr. Band notes that coastal areas do not differ, in general, from interior settings. “If you are going to a destination in Mexico, Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia, or India, recommendations, whether visiting coastal or interior areas, are the same—take precautions with food and water, apply insect repellent and sunscreen, get required immunizations, and update routine shots.”
Finding a Travel Doctor
You can ask your primary care doctor or local public health department for a recommendation. Some questions Dr. Band suggests asking are:
- Is the staff available 24/7?
- How long has the center been in existence? What are the credentials of the doctors and nurses?
- How does the center stay up to date?
- Does the clinic provide a medical handbook?
- Is the clinic approved to give the vaccine for yellow fever?
- Does the clinic specialize in infectious disease and tropical medicine?
As a footnote, the CDC states that the only vaccine required by International Health Regulations is the yellow fever vaccination for travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. (Meningococcal vaccination is required by the government of Saudi Arabia during the Hajj.) According to Band, only two of the 70,000 patients he has counseled throughout the years have canceled their travels because of medical-related fears. He notes that most common maladies are mere nuisances like jet lag, sunburn, insect bites, and insomnia. In terms of contracting an infectious disease, Band says that the risk is slight and that they are very amenable to intervention. Happy (and healthy) travels!
Image Credits: Steve Stankiewicz.