The Importance of Travel Vaccines
When you are traveling to another country, you may need vaccines to help protect you against certain illnesses. These are known as travel vaccines.
No one wants their vacation in another country to end with being sick. This is why getting travel vaccines and taking other precautions before you leave for your travels are so important.
What are Travel Vaccines?
Travel vaccines are vaccinations against illnesses that you may come into contact with when traveling to specific countries around the globe or even countries bordering your own.
Every country has their own regulations and laws surrounding vaccines that people in the country and those visiting the country need to have to keep them safe and healthy.
When traveling, you will need to get your vaccines approximately six weeks before you leave your country.
Why are Travel Vaccines Important?
Not getting these vaccinations not only puts you and those around you at risk, but it can also keep you from entering the country you are traveling to. The illnesses travel vaccines protect against serious and preventable illnesses which can be deadly.
The immunization against diseases like yellow fever and cholera that you get through the vaccinations are priceless in protecting your health. Getting the necessary vaccines can save your life.
Knowing Which Vaccines You Need
Although most countries carry all the information you need on which vaccines to get on their government websites, you can also check the World Health Organization website for the necessary information.
For Canada, there is an interactive and informative travel website that not only tells you which vaccines you need for specific regions and countries, it also gives you a list of precautions to take when traveling to a specific country or region.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has an informative website that includes travel alerts and travel health notices. Travel medicine alerts can also be found on the website of the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM).
Where to Get Travel Vaccines
There are various places where you can get different travel vaccines, including travel clinics and health care providers. The name of your local or closest clinic is usually available on your country’s travel vaccine website. These sites include:
- Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
- Your local government website.
It is very important that you contact the clinic with ample time to spare, as some of the vaccines may be out of stock and would have to be ordered from another clinic.
Common Travel Vaccines and the Illnesses They Protect Against
Here is a list of the most common travel vaccines that are required when traveling to specific countries, including some in Africa, Asia and South America, followed by a short description of each disease.
Cholera is a disease spread by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacteria. Cholera is characterized by large amounts of diarrhea. In severe cases, the diarrhea may have a pale, milky appearance. The diarrhea can also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. If untreated the disease can be deadly, although simple treatment — including replacing lost body fluids — can lower the risk of death to less than 1%. Cholera is prevalent in some African, Asian and American countries.
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This is a highly contagious infection of the liver. Hepatitis A is spread through eating or drinking feces contaminated food or water. The food or water (or ice) can be contaminated through handling shellfish harvested from contaminated water. While the disease lasts only weeks in some people, others may struggle with it for months before it clears up. Most people who get Hepatitis A make a full recovery.
Like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B is also an infection of the liver, but one that can cause scarring, liver failure and cancer. If not treated, Hepatitis B can be fatal.
Spread through mosquito bites, Japanese encephalitis’ symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, confusion and difficulty moving. Swelling around the brain and coma may also develop, leading to death in some cases. The disease is endemic to Asia and parts of the Western Pacific.
Japanese encephalitis is a very serious illness and can, at the moment, only be treated with supportive therapy like hospitalization, respiratory support and intravenous fluids.
A meningococcal vaccine is necessary for those traveling to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj pilgrimage. The vaccine may also be required for other countries where the illness is endemic.
Though eradicated in some countries through the use of vaccines, there are various countries around the globe that still have outbreaks of polio. The polio virus affects the nervous system and is spread through contact or by eating or drinking food and water contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Most people with polio, however, do not feel sick or have only minor symptoms. These symptoms may include fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, stiffness in the neck and back, and pain in the arms and legs. Even though most people recover, polio may also cause permanent paralysis of the arms or legs. If the muscles used to breathe are affected or the brain is infected, death may occur.
Found all around the world (except Antarctica), rabies is a deadly disease that affects the central nervous system. It is nearly always fatal. Rabies is spread through animal bites, licks and scratches. Rabies is infections among dogs and is still a problem in much of Africa, Asia, Central America and South America. This is one of the most important vaccines you should speak to your health care practitioner about.
The tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus is spread through tick bites or by eating or drinking unpasteurized dairy products from infected cows, goats or sheep. The symptoms of TBE include fever, aches, loss of appetite, headache, nausea and vomiting. In about 20% to 30% of cases, swelling of the brain and spinal cord also occurs. Approximately 1% of cases are fatal. TBE is found in many parts of Europe and Asia.
Spread by contaminated food and water, symptoms of typhoid include lasting high fevers, weakness, stomach pains, headache and a loss of appetite. Internal bleeding and death can occur, but are rare. Typhoid fever is common in most parts of the world, except in industrialized nations like the United States, Canada, western Europe, Australia and Japan. About 22 million cases of typhoid fever occur annually, with 200,000 fatalities.
Spread by mosquito bites, yellow fever is fatal in 20% to 50% of severe cases. You should get the yellow fever vaccine at least 10 days before traveling, as the proof of vaccination is only valid from 10 days after the vaccine is given. Travelers must also take precautions against mosquito bites.
Talking to Your Doctor
Because the diseases the vaccines protect against are serious — and even deadly — speak to your doctor or health care practitioner about which vaccines you may need to get and give yourself enough time to get all the vaccinations you need before leaving on your trip.