What Travel Vaccinations to Get Before You Go

So your next adventure is booked and organised, and you’ve started working on your packing list. It’s just the scary part that you’ve got left to consider… The dreaded travel vaccinations! As unpleasant as it may be, travel vaccinations are a requirement for traveling to many destinations around the globe, particularly in developing countries.

What Travel Vaccinations to Get Before You Go

Since the recommended treatments also vary from country to country, I’ve compiled this list to talk you through what travel vaccinations to get before you travel to various regions around the globe. When I first started traveling several years ago, I struggled to find a good, central resource online where I could read about all the different vaccinations needed for travel so hopefully this post will come in handy in helping you to prepare for your trip.

Please note that this article is intended to provide you guidance for knowing what travel vaccinations you need, and should not be used as a replacement for real medical advice. (Sadly Miss High Heels & A Backpack is not a Doctor, she faints at the sight of blood so would be ill equipped to help you there!)  You should always consult with a Travel Doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your departure, though I would recommend doing so as early as possible for your own peace of mind.

Let’s take a look at the typical vaccinations required for travel, where theyare needed, how long they remain effective, and how much they cost.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral disease that is common in developing countries and is often transmitted as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene (not washing hands, contaminated food/water, etc). Symptoms of hepatitis A include extreme tiredness, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and a loss of appetite. Hepatitis A causes severe damage to the liver if left untreated and can cause acute liver disease.

When to get the Hepatitis A vaccine: At least 2 weeks before departure.
Where is it required:
Developing countries worldwide
How long it is effective:
25 years
What’s the damage?:
Free on the NHS

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and South America. It is transmitted by blood transfusions and sexual contact with an infected individual.
This is technically optional, your doctor may recommend this and it is your personal choice. Hopefully you won’t have to visit a hospital and have a blood transfusion overseas but since you never know what might happen, it is better to be safe than sorry, right?

When to get the Hepatitis B vaccine: at least 2 weeks before departure.
How long it is effective: 20 years
Where is it required: Asia, The Middle East, South and West Pacific and The Caribbean
What’s the damage?: Free on the NHS

What Travel Vaccinations to Get Before You Go

Typhoid

Like hepatitis A, typhoid can be caught from contaminated food or water.It is a very serious disease that causes symptoms such as stomach pain, a high fever, weakness, headaches and fatigue.

Depending on your personal preference and the availability at your local clinic, you can opt for either a shot of the vaccination, or oral treatment. You should take into consideration that the typhoid vaccination isn’t 100% effective, so be careful about what you eat, particularly concerning street food. Don’t eat meats that have been left out, or anything that has flies around it (I’m sure this wouldn’t be appealing anyway!)

When to get the typhoid vaccine: 2 weeks before your departure (vaccination) or 1 week before (oral medication)
Where is it required: Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America
How long it is effective: 3 years
What’s the damage?: £25

Diphtheria

Diphtheria is common in tropical countries and spreads through coughing and sneezing. You will need to check your medical history with your Doctor as you may already be covered. The diphtheria vaccination comes in several forms, but is often given in conjunction with a tetanus shot. You should get a booster for this every ten years. If you are not up to date, ensure you get the booster shot at least 4-6 weeks before your departure.

When to get the diphtheria vaccine: 4-6 weeks before travel
How long it is effective: 10 years
Where is it required: Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America
What’s the damage?: £25 booster (polio, diphtheria and tetanus)

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Rabies

Rabies can be caught if you are bitten, licked or scratched by an infected animal. Since this particular vaccination is only required if you interact with animals, many doctors will leave this one open for you to decide upon.

The Rabies vaccine consists of three rounds of vaccinations each spread a month apart and starting 12 weeks before your departure. If you come into contact with an infected animal, the vaccination does not prevent rabies and so you should still seek immediate medical treatment.

If you have the vaccination and you contract rabies, you will need to receive a course of two more vaccinations following exposure. If you do not opt for this vaccination prior to traveling, you will have to have the full course (five vaccinations) when/if exposed to Rabies.

Exert common sense in developing nations and avoid touching all animals whether they are wild or domestic.

When to get the Rabies vaccine::  4-12 weeks before travel
How long it is effective: 2-5 years
Where is it required: Optional (present Worldwide)
What’s the damage?: £20

What Travel Vaccinations to Get Before You Go

Japanese B Encephalitis

A mosquito borne disease, Japanese B encephalitis is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito.This vaccination is typically not recommended by GPs unless you expect to be venturing off the beaten track into extremely rural parts of Southeast Asia. If you are spending any period of longer than a month in rural regions then perhaps it will be recommended to you. Japanese B encephalitis causes inflammation of the brain and the symptoms of the disease include experiencing headaches, confusion and severe flu. There is no treatment or cure for Japanese B encephalitis, only medication available to lessen the symptoms.

If required, vaccinations consist of a course of 3 injections over 30 days, or 2 injections with a week’s interval between them.

When to get the Japanese B encephalitis vaccine: 4-6 weeks before travel
How long it is effective: 1 year
Where is it required: Extremely rural parts of Southeast Asia
What’s the damage?: £50

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is found in tropical and subtropical regions of South America and Africa. Another mosquito borne disease, some people may contract the illness and not even know about it since it is often symptom-less. If symptoms are experienced, they will be flu-like and can last several months. Around 15% of cases progress into a more serious form of yellow fever and this can cause jaundice and organ failure.You should be aware that there are several countries which require a yellow fever vaccination who will request to see your certificate to prove your treatment once you arrive at the border, particularly countries in Africa so check the government travel advice for the countries you are visiting. (this happened to me in Egypt).

When to get the Yellow fever vaccine: At least 10 days before travel
How long it is effective: 10 years
Where is it required: Tropical and subtropical areas in South America and Africa.
What’s the damage?: £45

Tetanus

Tetanus is typically spread through bacteria entering cuts or puncture wounds in the skin from contaminated objects or matter (dirt, dust, manure, etc). It’s often referred to as “lockjaw” as tightening of the jaw muscles is one of the most common signs of the infection. Symptoms include jaw cramping, involuntary muscle spasms, painful muscle stiffness, headaches, seizures and fevers.

More than likely you had this vaccination as a child so it will just be a matter of ensuring that your boosters are up to date (the vaccination is typically tetanus/polio/diphtheria combined)

When to get the Tetanus vaccine: At least 10 days before travel
How long it is effective: 10 years
Where is it required: Worldwide
What’s the damage?: £25 booster

What Travel Vaccinations to Get Before You Go

Polio

Polio is a viral infection that can be contracted through ingesting or coming into contact with contaminated water and food. Symptoms can include headaches, stomach upset, a stiff neck and malaise. In the more serious form of the infection, an infection of the motor neuron can lead to limb paralysis and breathing problems.

More than likely you had your polio vaccination as a child. Boosters are required every ten years so double check with your GP that you are up to date. (The polio vaccination comes partnered with diphtheria and tetanus)

When to get the Polio vaccine: At least 10 days before travel
How long it is effective: 10 years
Where is it required: Developing countries in Asia and Africa
What’s the damage?: £25 booster (polio, diphtheria and tetanus)

Tick-Borne Encephalitis

Tick Borne Encephalitis is a viral infection transmitted to humans by ticks. The symptoms of this can include a fever, headaches, tiredness and muscle pain. The illness typically goes away by itself after around a week however in some cases it can progress to a more serious strain of the disease which can affect the brain and cause paralysis. Some cases are fatal and cause lifelong complications.

Wear insect repellant and long sleeves in woodland or rural areas and check your body for ticks regularly. You can remove them using tweezers or a tick remover.

When to get the Tick Borne Encephalitis vaccine: At least 10 days before travel
How long it is effective: 10 years
Where is it required: Rural parts of Eastern, Central and Northern Europe, China and Japan.
What’s the damage?: £195 per course (3 vaccinations (£65 each) required over a period of 18 months. The first two doses can be accelerated and given 2 weeks apart for protection overseas)

Cholera

I have included Cholera on the list, since many people can be concerned about the disease when they travel to developing nations, however an immunisation against it is seldom ever required or recommended.

Cholera is a disease which causes chronic diarrhea and comes from consuming contaminated water. However, this is typically in extremely rural areas of the country where travelers will not find themselves. So unless you are doing community volunteer work in a rural village or similar, it is unlikely they you will be advised to have preventative treatment for Cholera.

When to get the Cholera vaccine: 1 week before travel
How long it is effective:
Boosters required every 2 years
Where is it required:
Extremely off the beaten path areas of Asia, Africa, Latin America, India, and the Middle East.
What’s the damage?:
£30

What Travel Vaccinations to Get Before You Go

Mosquito Borne Diseases Without Vaccinations

Malaria

Malaria can be a big concern for those traveling to affected areas. It is present in developing nations across Asia, Africa and South America.  The flu like symptoms that it causes may not appear for as late as a year after the person comes into contact with an infected mosquito. Symptoms include a fever, sweats and chills, vomiting, headaches and muscle pains.

Though there is no malaria vaccine available, you can take antimalarial tablets and if your doctor recommends that you take these, there are several different forms of medication available. Some cause severe side effects and can interfere with other medications or your contraceptive pill so it is imperative that you seek medical advice beforehand. You need to take the tablets daily while traveling in a malarial zone, and start the course of treatment a set amount of days before your departure.

Lloyd’s pharmacy has a great malaria section on their website which discusses the various options available, their ingredients, and the differences between them here.

You should always apply a strong mosquito repellent for additional protection – ideally one with at least 50% Deet content.

When to get the treatment: Start taking the medication as instructed by your doctor.
How long it is effective: Effective only during the course of the medication.
Where is treatment required: Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East and the Pacific.
What’s the damage?: From £0.11 per tablet to £2.32 per tablet depending on specific prescription.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is another severe flu-like illness which is transmitted by a bite from an infected mosquito. Symptoms of this can include contracting a rash, experiencing headaches,a high fever, painful joints and muscles. In some circumstances, the disease can progress to a more serious form which can lead to bleeding of internal organs, organ shock and death.

Unfortunately there is currently no vaccination against dengue so you need to take precautions about mosquito bites. I cannot stress enough about how you should be using a jungle strength insect repellent (50% deet minimum). Reapply the repellent regularly, wear long sleeves in the evenings and seek immediate medical advice should you become ill.

Do I really need travel vaccinations?

Ultimately, only you can decide whether or not you want to go ahead with obtaining your recommended travel vaccinations. I understand that the amount you’re spending on this can add up fast, however I personally consider it worthwhile since we are talking about your health here. These are not diseases to be taken lightly and many can cause serious long term damage to your quality of life or even be fatal so is it really worth the risk? Since the vaccinations are valid for several years, once you have received a treatment, you are covered then for future trips. Do you really want to ruin that adventure you’ve been planning for months with a tropical disease?

What Travel Vaccinations to Get Before You Go

 

As you can see, if you are traveling to a developing country during your vacation, then you are likely to need at least a couple of travel vaccinations. I hope that this overview has helped to provide you with some information as to what vaccinations you need to travel. Although the recommended time for the majority of vaccinations is 4-6 weeks before departure, I would recommend organising these as soon as you know that you are taking a trip. It is worth contacting your Doctors surgery for travel health advice even when you are just considering your trip to ensure that you have all the information that you need. Many clinics also enable you to have a phone consultation with a travel nurse for guidance.

Nobody likes needles, but once covered then you’re protected against these illnesses for years to come and you can relax during your trip. Your Doctor will typically give you a little booklet detailing which vaccinations and treatment you received and I recommend that you keep this document in your hand luggage during your trip just in case. You should photocopy this, keeping one copy at home, and one in your suitcase.

Once you’ve got this painful travel admin aside then you can concentrate on the nicer and more important parts of preparation… like deciding what clothes to take and how to fit  everything in your bag.

 

 

 

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