When I first took into account that I would be needing multiple vaccines for my many-country jaunt, it was hard, at first, to weed out what I did and didn’t need. Contracting pretty much anything from traveler’s diarrhea to Dengue fever while abroad is horrific, particularly if you are staying in some lower budget accommodations (with shared bathrooms) as we planned to. I found myself looking wide eyed at the CDC’s website on travel warnings, imagining myself hemorrhaging blood from my eyes and fingernails, unable to be treated, too late for vaccinations. So it came as a surprise to me when I looked further into it, that pretty much no vaccine other than yellow fever was actually required. Rather, they are recommended. So how do you choose which vaccines are right for you? Allow me to help:
- Take into account where you will be traveling. Obviously you know which countries you plan to visit, but where in those countries in particular do you plan to spend your time? For instance, Kate and I both want to dive the Great Barrier Reef which is toward the North of Australia in Queensland, putting us at risk to contract more diseases carried by insects, because they are more rampant and reported in this area of the country. On the other hand, because we plan to stay only in cities while in Malaysia, we avoided some vaccines like Japanese encephalitis because you are really only at a high risk in rural areas.
- Do your research. This goes without saying, or it should if you are serious about your traveling and budget. There are a zillion resources on vaccination specialists who can help you map out your health concerns and vaccination needs for your trip abroad, but, like most doctors, they need to make money. Get a copy of your immunization records from your primary care position so you know if you can avoid paying the big bucks for vaccines like Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Influenza, all of which can end up costing you thousands of dollars and perhaps a bit of discomfort. After receiving my yellow fever vaccine my skin took on a pallid, almost pale yellow color and I napped for about five hours, still feeling a bit tired the next day. Imagine pumping your body full of multiple vaccines at once! You’d probably need to take a day and relax. Kate and I found the International Travel Clinic in Miami, FL (for those of you traveling out from this area, we highly recommend it, go to www.internationaltravelclinic.org for more information!) It took us about two hours of paperwork, sit downs with our doctor, and then finally getting the vaccines before we were out of there, but for only $225 I got my yellow fever vaccination, typhoid vaccine, tetanus, pertussis, and diptheria booster, a prescription for malaria tablets and an anti parasitic, as well as a wealth of information of food, water, and insect borne illnesses. I’m glad I did my research and found a doctor with a high recommendation from her previous patients. She made sure my insurance would cover any vaccines also required in the US (for instance, most of us need Hepatitis A to travel, but have already received it during our formative school years. However, if for some reason you do not have it, your insurance company will cover it at no cost to you, alongside tetanus, and other vaccine requirements necessary for life in North America, which makes it easier to travel more cheaply internationally).
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I asked a lot of fellow travelers about their vaccinations, and read many travel blogs to find out who had what and who was just out there risking Japanese encephalitis like me! By doing research on my fellow travelers and then asking questions and researching the likely hood of contracting the diseases vaccines and prevention were available for, I was able to narrow down which “optional” vaccines would probably not be needed, and which diseases could be easily treated if I did contract them, which is why I opted out of things like cholera, tuberculosis, rabies, and the like. More serious, crippling illnesses with little to no treatment were obviously necessary, and yet I find I am still risking threats of Dengue fever and other such illnesses that are not preventable or treatable. In the case of rabies, as long as you know the importance of immediately going to a hospital (within the first three hours of being bitten) and the damage rabies can do if left untreated, you will be able to be treated within the necessary time frame and should survive just fine, albeit being, most likely, a bit shaken up, and will have saved $750 on the vaccine itself. So don’t be afraid to ask questions so that you know what your vaccine can and will do for you, and be aware of the risks and symptoms of the vaccines you opt out of due to price, likelihood, etc.
All in all, getting these vaccines are pretty painless. The worst part, I’d have to say, was driving in Miami traffic for an hour, which is to say, it wasn’t so bad. I feel confident that I am protected against diseases that I would be likely to contract if not vaccinated, and that I can be aware and smart about the ones I still may come into contact with. It’s important to always drink bottled water or boiled water only in third world countries, to eat things that are cooked, able to be peeled (in the fruits and veggies department), and vary. To prevent diarrhea, one can eat a constipating diet, to help get their bowels started, they can drink water, coffee, and stick to a diet consisting largely of fruits and veggies. Staying hydrated, being aware of one’s surroundings, and removing yourself from places where people are coughing or seem sick are all extremely important in the fight against getting sick while abroad. There are countless resources to keep you safe, diagnose you (realistically! No hypochondriac should be left alone with WebMD), and help you along your journey. Getting vaccinated is important and sometimes obligated (my CDC yellowbook is all ready for the Kenyan customs officials), and is always, always a great idea.