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When traveling abroad, not only do we have the hassle of organizing our trips, figuring out money exchange, getting our visa and making sure our documents are in order, but there is also the daunting task of researching which -if any- vaccinations we need for the area we'll be traveling to.
As I did more research on vaccines, I realized just how overwhelming it is. There is so much information and so many vaccinations. Which ones do I need for where I'll be traveling? When do I need to get them? How much does it cost? How often do I need to get them? What are the side effects?
I'm no doctor, and my only knowledge is my research and my personal experience of being vaccinated for my travels. However, I hope I can give you some clear basic info. I will not be discussing polio or tetanus, but I do hope you're already vaccinated for those. Malaria will be discussed in another post.
Please keep in mind you should always contact your doctor or a vaccination clinic for any questions.
Diseases and their symptoms
Hepatitis A is a virus spread via contaminated food and water or from person to person. Travelers coming from developed countries are at increased risk since they will not have developed an immunity through pre-exposure.
Symptoms include: fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, joint pain, and jaundice. In children under the age of 6, 70% of infections are asymptomatic. The average incubation period of Hep A is 28 days, ranging anywhere between 2-7 weeks. Symptoms can last from a few weeks to several months, and people can transmit the virus up to 2 weeks before symptoms even appear.
Hepatitis B is transmitted from person to person through bodily fluids; sexual contact, sharing needles, or contaminated medical equipment. It can also be passed on from a mother to her baby at birth.
It can be acute (short-term) or chronic. An acute infection can -but not always- lead to chronic infection. Symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dark urine, abdominal pain, joint pain, jaundice. Chronic Hep B is a serious disease that may lead to lifelong infection, scarring of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death.
Typhoid is caused by the Salmonella bacteria that is transmitted via contaminated food and drink.
It has an incubation period of 1-2 weeks. Symptoms include: high fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, chest congestion, body aches and pain. The duration of the illness is between 3-4 weeks. It can be treated with antibiotics.
This virus is transmitted via an infected mosquito with an incubation period of 3-6 days. Initial symptoms include sudden onset of fever, chills, severe headache, body aches, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. Roughly 15% of cases progress to develop a more severe form of the disease characterized by high fever, jaundice, bleeding, and eventually organ failure.
JE is a virus spread by infected mosquitoes that can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). These mosquitoes are usually in rural or agricultural areas, often associated with rice farming. Symptoms develop between 5-15 days after the bite. Most people develop mild symptoms or none at all. In severe cases, symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting, which can then progress to encephalitis and seizures. Coma and paralysis may occur.
Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system. It is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal.
Incubation period is 3-12 weeks. Early symptoms include fever, headache, weakness, and discomfort. Symptoms then turn into insomnia, anxiety, confusion, paralysis, agitation, trouble swallowing, and hallucinations. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
A virus transmitted via the bite of an infected tick or is acquired by ingesting unpasteurized dairy products from infected animals.
About two-thirds of infections are asymptomatic. Median incubation period is 8 days (ranging from 4-28 days). Incubation for milkborne TBE is 3-4 days. First phase of symptoms are flu-like; headache, fatigue, and nausea. If patient does not recover from illness, second phase symptoms include: aseptic meningitis, altered mental state, confusion, tremors, cranial nerve palsies, and muscular paralysis.
Do I need a vaccine for where I am traveling?
Some countries require proof of vaccination while others recommend you get vaccinated. Do your research for where you are traveling to.
Hepatitis A: Present in all developing countries and areas with poor sanitation.
Hepatitis B: Southeast Asia, India, parts of Africa and South America, Eastern Europe, Middle East.
Typhoid: Present worldwide. Higher risk in areas with poor sanitation - Middle East, South America, Africa.
Yellow Fever: Sub-Saharan Africa, Tropical South America.
Japanese Encephalitis: Southeast Asia, East Asia. Prevalent in rural or agricultural areas, often associated with rice farming. In temperate areas, transmission is seasonal - peak in the Summer and Fall.
Rabies: Worldwide. More prevalent in countries with inadequate public health resources and limited access to preventive treatment - certain countries in Asia, Africa, and South America.
Tickborne Encephalitis: Focal areas of Europe and Asia (from eastern France to northern Japan and from northern Russia to Albania), such as: Czech Republic, Denmark, Romania, Switzerland, China, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan.
Click here for a great webpage by the CDC. Scroll through the list and pick the country you'll be visiting for specific information regarding diseases and vaccines.
Note: This is just a general list of where these diseases are most prevalent. Always do your research and take into account how much time you'll be spending outdoors and the quality of sanitation of where you'll be. Check out the CDC webpage or World Health Organization site for specific info.
When should I be vaccinated?
Hepatitis A and B: The Hepatitis A vaccine is given as 2 shots, 6 months apart. Recommended to take the first dose at least 2 weeks before traveling. Protection begins 2-4 weeks after first injection. The vaccine also comes in a combination form, containing both Hepatitis A and B vaccine, that can be given to persons 18 years of age and older. This form is given as 3 shots, over a period of 6 months.
Typhoid: 1-2 weeks before traveling. Can be taken as an injection or 4 capsules by mouth with 2 days between each capsule.
Yellow Fever: At least 10 days before departure.
Japanese Encephalitis: 2 doses. Second dose administered 4 weeks after first. The 2-dose series should be completed at least one week before departure.
Rabies: Three doses. Day 0, 7, and 21-28. All three must be administered before travel.
Tickborne Encephalitis: No TBE vaccines are licensed or available in the United States. They are available in Europe, Canada, and China. Information regarding the Chinese vaccine has not yet been translated in English. Vaccine is a series of 3 doses. Time between each dose varies in different countries. Immunity is usually one month after final dose.
Note: If you have lost your vaccine series documentation and just can't remember if you've already taken it or not, there is NO harm in taking the Hep A or Hep B vaccine again.
How long will I be protected for?
Hepatitis A: 25+ years in adults. 14-20 years in children.
Hepatitis B: 10 years
Typhoid: 3 years
Yellow Fever: 10 years
Japanese Encephalitis: 1 year
Rabies: 2 years
Tickborne Encephalitis: 2-5 years. Depending on age of patient.
What are the side effects of the vaccination?
With any vaccine, you will likely experience pain, tenderness, and redness in the injection site. Here are some other side effects that are less common.
Hepatitis A: Nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain.
Hepatitis B: Fatigue, headache.
Typhoid: Low fever and headache. With the oral capsules, serious side effects are nausea, vomiting, and rash (rare).
Yellow Fever: Tenderness and muscle ache. It is recommended that you wait at the clinic about 30 minutes after your vaccination to make sure you don't have any serious reactions. Complications are more common in elderly patients.
Japanese Encephalitis: Mainly just pain in injection site.
Rabies: Headache, nausea, abdominal pain. Some may have joint pain, hives, fever, and swollen glands.
Tickborne Encephalitis: Headache, muscle pain, nausea, and fatigue. Less common are fever, vertigo, vomiting, stomach pains, and diarrhea.
Note: always talk to your doctor and vaccine clinic about other possible serious side effects, sensitivity and allergies, and vaccinations while pregnant.
Now for the common sense
If it's not clear from this post, I recommend you always get vaccinated. Sure, if you're not vaccinated it doesn't mean you'll get sick, but I'd rather be safe than sorry!
Visit these sites for more detailed information and prices:
World Health Organization
Hi there! I'm Skeeter. I grew up moving a lot and that makes me a bit restless for travel and exploration. I started this blog with my husband Pat when we decided to backpack New Zealand for a year. We are always looking for the next adventure and are loving life. We're just your average couple with two sassy dogs and a love for travel. We're sharing our travels and the tips we pick up along the way.
Hello! I'm Liz. Blogging is very new to me, but I'm so excited to finally write as much as I talk!
"Don't forget to travel happy"-Skeeter & Liz