Add Immunizations to Your Travel Preparations
Last week I visited my daughter’s school to talk about what it means to be a Shot@Life champion. After a quick review of the diseases that the Shot@Life campaign is trying to prevent with their global vaccination efforts, I noticed a child crying in the back of the classroom and I inquired why he was so upset. He said, “Can we please stop talking about kids dying and polio in Afghanistan? My daddy is there and now I’m worried about him getting sick.”
I quickly calmed his fears by explaining that military service members be vaccinated – and therefore protected – against polio and many other diseases. I went on to discuss the fourteen different diseases we routinely vaccinate children for in the United States but cautioned them that although we may not see these diseases often, there are areas in the world where these diseases, and others, are common. We discussed how we must educate ourselves about diseases and take precautions when we can. With Spring Break just around the corner and summer travel plans being made, now is the time to be considering vaccines as important health precautions for families who are planning to travel outside of the country.
One of the best things you can do before traveling is to make an appointment with your health provider. While your doctor should be able to tell you which vaccines you should have, you can familiarize yourself with travel risks ahead of time by investigating the country or countries you plan to visit. With good preparation, you’ll be ready to discuss the questions you may have with your doctor during your scheduled visit.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an excellent resource that is complete with travel alerts, details regarding current outbreaks in various countries, as well as a list of travel clinics that can assist you. Based on the information they provide, they have divided travel vaccines into three categories: routine, recommended, and required.
While most people realize that there are routine vaccinations for children, some are unaware that there are routine vaccinations for adults as well. Specific adult immunizations are determined by factors such as age, lifestyle, high-risk conditions, and previous immunization history. Some people incorrectly assume that the vaccines they received as children will protect them for the rest of their lives. Generally this is true, except that immunity to some diseases may begin to fade over time, resulting in the need for a booster shot to prolong protection as an adult. In other cases, there are new vaccines that were not available to us as children. Additionally, as we age we become more susceptible to serious disease caused by common infections such as flu and pneumococcus. A thorough review of our immunization history can make sure we cover any gaps. Even routine vaccines, such as measles, can be necessary to provide protection from diseases that are still common in many parts of the world, even if they rarely occur in the U.S. To find out more about routine vaccinations, you can begin by reviewing the latest 2013 schedules for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults here.
Different vaccines may be recommended to travelers dependent on their destination. These vaccines are recommended to protect against illnesses often present in other parts of the world that we may not routinely vaccinate against here in the U.S. Vaccination not only helps protect the individual who is traveling, but also prevents the serious consequence of importing infectious diseases across international borders. Which vaccinations you need depends on a number of factors including your destination, whether you will be spending time in rural areas, the season of the year you are traveling, your age, health status, and previous immunizations.
One of the only vaccines required by International Health Regulations is yellow fever vaccination for travel to certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. Also, meningococcal vaccination is required by the government of Saudi Arabia for annual travel during the Hajj and recommended to those traveling to the “meningitis belt” of sub-Saharan Africa.
Other vaccine decisions will depend on who is in your travel party. There are often different considerations for the young, elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding traveler. Travelers who are immune compromised or suffer from such illnesses as diabetes or HIV may have conditions that interfere with vaccine uptake and the risks of disease should be discussed with their doctor in advance.
It’s critical that travelers allow enough time to visit their doctor at least 4-6 weeks before a scheduled trip. Most vaccines take time to become effective in your body and some vaccines will need to be administered over a period of days or sometimes even weeks. It’s also important to note that your doctor’s office or clinic may not have the vaccine you need readily available, so advance planning is key. But even if you make last-minute travel plans, a call to the doctor can help ensure that you do your best to protect yourself from illness when traveling.