You’ve done all the research, you’ve booked your tickets and accommodation and you’ve planned your sightseeing itinerary to the tee. The excitement of travelling to another country makes standing in queues at the Home Affairs office to renew your passport and getting your visa at the embassy worthwhile.
What you may not have considered, is the medications or immunizations required before travelling to a certain country or region. Even though it may not always be our priority when planning a trip, your health is extremely important.
It is not a secret that since international travel has become so easy, convenient and affordable, it has also lead to an increase in the spread of several viral and bacterial diseases worldwide. The example that immediately comes to mind is the most recent outbreak of Ebola in 2014. The contraction of a number of these diseases can be prevented by receiving an oral or injectable immunization.
Most countries will have a list of required or recommended vaccinations, information regarding water safety (for consumption) as well as food safety, the risks of travelling for long periods of time and other health risks.
Here are the most common required vaccinations required for travel by a number of countries:
1. Hepatitis A and B:
The vaccination for the above-mentioned is usually combined in one injection. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Although the hepatitis virus is not the only cause of the inflammation of the liver, it is the most common. The hepatitis virus is mostly spread through faeces and bodily fluids and is some cases contaminated food or water.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical and sub-tropical regions. The vaccination is usually administered orally. Although malaria is treatable if caught early enough, as the symptoms are usually mistaken for flu, it is sometimes misdiagnosed. If you have recently visited a malaria-stricken area and are experiencing flu like symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
3. Yellow Fever:
Yellow fever is caused by a virus that, like malaria, is transmitted through mosquitoes. Symptoms of the disease include fever, nausea, chills, headache, muscle pain and loss of appetite. A vaccination is available and even though the disease may not be life threatening in most cases, receiving the vaccination before travelling to a country where yellow fever is common is advised.
4. Typhoid Fever:
Unlike the diseases mentioned above, typhoid fever (more commonly known as typhoid) is caused by a bacterium (Salmonella typhi). It is transmitted through contaminated food or water and is usually due to poor sanitation. Symptoms include abdominal pain, headaches and constipation and some may develop a skin rash. Some countries do not require this vaccination, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
It is also very important that the following vaccinations are up to date:
- Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
- Pertussis (Whooping cough)
There are some diseases caused by viruses (transmitted by mosquitoes) for which no approved vaccines are available. Necessary precautions need to be taken in areas where the diseases are known to be common. These include Dengue fever, West Nile fever, as well as the Zika virus. Mosquito deterrents are usually the first line of defence. It is also advised to cover any exposed skin (wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants is encouraged) and to wear closed shoes or sneakers when walking outside. Women who are pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant are advised to avoid areas where Zika has been reported at all costs, as there is a risk of birth defects and abnormalities for the unborn baby. The most documented of these being a condition called microcephaly, where the brain does not develop fully and causes a smaller than normal head size.
It is always important to find out before your trip if the tap water is safe to drink. If it is not, remember that the water is most likely used to wash fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating salads and if the ice is not made with filtered or processed water, rather not take the risk of adding ice to your beverages.
Once you have done your homework and received the necessary vaccines, the last thing to do is to enjoy your trip and remember to pack a good book for those long flights.