When leaving the comforts of your native land to see the exotic sights of distant locales, you may be exposed to more than interesting views. Especially when traveling to less developed areas, the risk of exposure to some germs that bring along nasty diseases increases. You may find the need to seek out vaccinations against some of the more ugly and sometimes deadly diseases that are out there. Knowing which vaccinations to take can be tricky both in selecting the right ones and locating places that offer them.
Start the effort to find out what type of vaccinations you need by consulting with your doctor.
Since vaccines are not always a one-size-fits-all proposition, your doctor is probably the only one who is qualified to assess the your risks between taking and not taking the vaccine. Depending on where you are traveling, your risk of foreign infections may not be as great as any risks associated with the vaccine. As a general rule, young healthy people with strong immune systems are safe when taking any of these vaccines. Seniors and others with weak immune systems may be better off not being vaccinated.
As your travel becomes more remote, your risk of infection increases.
Casual travelers, especially seniors, do not often end up in areas where they will be exposed to food, water, and insects that carry disease. Younger adventurers who like to hike deep into forests or spend large amounts of time in the undeveloped countries may find themselves in real danger if they are unvaccinated. Each foreign locale has its own variety of biological hazard. Most of the local health departments in larger communities can advise you on which vaccines are best for your travel plans. These agencies can also direct you to the location where the vaccines can be administered.
It pays to know what are the more prevalent diseases, how they are spread, and how the vaccine works.
Hepatitis A and typhoid are both spread through food and water. Areas with low sanitation and bad water supplies carry a high possibility of spreading these diseases. Taking two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine can give you protection for 20 or so years. The vaccine for typhoid is effective less than three quarters of the time. The disease itself is very treatable with antibiotics. You may be better off to carry the cure rather than take the vaccine if typhoid is the disease of the day.
Some of these diseases are all but a definite death sentence without the vaccines if you contract them.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with the body fluids of an infected person. Rabies, while not a problem in most developed countries, can be a serious threat in some undeveloped and remote areas. Both of these diseases will bring a tragic end to those who contract them. Hepatitis B requires a vaccine administered in three doses that are spread apart at set intervals. The rabies vaccine can be administered after contact with a diseased animal, but if you are going to an area where medical services are not available, get the vaccine first.
Mosquitoes are responsible for infecting travelers with certain diseases.
In the tropics, yellow fever is the big disease on the block that is spread by mosquitoes. In Asia, the mosquito brings Japanese encephalitis along when it bites you. The problem with the yellow fever vaccine is that it contains a live virus that can make you sick. Only healthy people should line up for this vaccine. The Japanese encephalitis vaccine requires two doses to become effective. No one is sure how long it keeps you protected.
A final disease is spread from person to person by close contact.
Meningitis is a dreadful disease infecting the lining of the brain and spinal cord. If you are traveling for pleasure, you probably will not be at risk for this disease. Certain pilgrimages require this vaccine to be administered before the trip can be taken. However, no one is sure that the vaccine gives full protection for everyone against the disease.
Conde Naste Traveler, 2011. “How to deal with the pricks;” page 70, June 2011.