Travelling to exotic destinations is on the wish list for many travel fanatics. Going on a wildlife safari, visiting pristine white beaches, or camping in the tropics is an escape route that many embrace. While on tour, souvenirs are bought that recall pleasant memories of the place; however, nobody wishes to bring back souvenirs in the form of illness, such as yellow fever or typhoid or “Montezuma’s revenge.” Such illnesses need not put a wrench in the works as far as travel plans are concerned. The answer to protecting the body against foreign illnesses is travel vaccinations.
About travel vaccinations
Before embarking on travel to certain parts of the world, travellers can get shots, termed as travel immunizations or travel vaccines, to protect themselves against diseases and illnesses. The vaccines are composed of live attenuated or dead bacteria or viruses of the disease they cause. These organisms do not harm the body but stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against the virus or bacteria. Thus, when exposed to a disease that causes live bacteria or viruses, the body is ready to fight them off.
Types of vaccines
- Routine vaccines
There are several routine vaccines that need to be taken by young and old alike, irrespective of whether they are planning to travel or not. These include adult vaccination for diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus as well as a measles vaccine for adults who are not up to date. These are routine vaccines for illnesses that could be quite common in certain countries, and thus it is best to get them weeks in advance before travelling abroad.
- Recommended vaccines
These are vaccines for certain types of illnesses that can be taken when travelling to high-risk areas. These recommended vaccines protect travellers and prevent diseases from spreading from one country to another.
- Required vaccines
These vaccines are a must and are at times mandatory when travelling to certain parts of the world. For instance, when travelling to parts of South America and Africa, the vaccine for yellow fever is required. Similarly, those travelling to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage need to take the meningococcal vaccine.
A few common diseases and illnesses that are travel related and that can be prevented by vaccination, apart from yellow fever and meningococcal disease, include typhoid and paratyphoid fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, and Japanese encephalitis.
Factors determining the need for vaccination
The vaccine needed before travelling abroad depends on a lot of factors. It also differs from person to person when travelling to the same place. This is again decided by several factors, such as
- whether the areas they are travelling to are urban or rural;
- whether they will consume food at a hotel or at local joints;
- whether they are backpacking throughout the country or living in a resort.
All of the above factors are considered because the exposure to germs and organisms as well as the risk profile varies depending on the itinerary. The season in which travel is scheduled, mode of transport, and planned activities are also taken into consideration. Previous immunization history as well as health status, such as current medications, also help decide whether to vaccinate and which vaccinations are required before travelling.
It is advisable to be updated on routine vaccinations regularly to prevent illnesses during travel abroad. If travelling to high-risk areas, visiting a travel vaccination center for advice on required vaccines is a must. In addition, practicing basic hygiene rituals, such as washing hands, using sanitizers, and using mosquito repellents, helps prevent illnesses.
Since 2001, Dr. Alexander G. Salerno has led Salerno Medical Associates in East Orange, New Jersey. Dr. Alexander Salerno focuses largely on urban communities and on delivering patient education about both medical and behavioral health issues.