Travel Vaccines

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Going on holiday is a stressful business – I usually find that by the time we all arrive at our given destination I really need a holiday, whether or not I needed one a couple of weeks beforehand. From the bikini diet through the bikini shopping (ouch!) to tickets, passports, packing everything necessary for three kids and negotiating all of them through the airports etc, by the time we dump our suitcases in our apartment at the other end, we are far more exhausted than after a hard week at work, and most definitely ready to chill. Which is unlikely given the presence of three hyperactive children, but a dream is still a dream.

One of the things about the great summer holiday that a lot of people seem to either find stressful, or at least leave until the very last possible moment so that it becomes stressful, is the chore that is visiting the GP, or practice nurse at least, to have the recommended travel vaccines. Every year I have a long queue of sheepish looking patients rocking up to see me with sincere apologies for having ‘left it so late’, but essentially needing their vaccines immediately because they fly out to their dream destination this afternoon/tonight/tomorrow. Which is less than ideal because many vaccines take longer than that to be truly effective.

So which vaccines are recommended? The answer is that it really depends where you are going and what you will be doing while you are there – in many countries that are big tourist destinations the recommended vaccines vary greatly because being a typical two week package tourist in an air conditioned hotel in a busy resort centre is very different from backpacking through the jungle or volunteering at the local AIDS orphanage only a few miles away. It is beyond the scope of this article to go through every destination and every vaccine needed (who on earth would read that anyway?!), but if I can take you on a whistle stop tour of vaccines in general and remind you to get to your surgery in plenty of time then my work is done. So here goes:

Vaccines Usually Required In The UK

The vaccination travel advice for most destinations starts with the phrase ‘all the vaccines normally required for life in the UK plus…..’, and usually the two that often require booster injections before travel are tetanus and polio – your practice nurse will know whether yours are due or not. It is a good idea to keep those up to date anyway, so far so good.

Europe

For most people on a 2 week package holiday or similar, the good news is that very little is needed in terms of vaccinations apart from the ‘required in the UK’ variety. In some countries hepatitis A is recommended – one injection will cover you for a two week holiday, but if you remember to go back to your doctor after your holiday and get a booster then your immunity will last for several years.

If you are staying for more than three months or having a working holiday then other vaccines including diphtheria, rabies and hepatitis B are recommended. Hepatitis B in particular is a course of three injections spread over a number of months, so it is worth starting early if this applies to you.

North America and the Caribbean

Great news, only hepatitis A in addition to the UK schedule is needed here. In some places, particularly the Dominican Republic, anti-malarial medication is required – that is a whole other article that I covered last summer, check with your GP if you are not sure what you need. You will need a prescription for anti-malarial medication and there will be a charge for it, ranging from ‘cheap as chips but with unpleasant side effects’ through to ‘break the bank but lovely and worth it’ depending on where you are going and your budget.

South America

Recommended vaccines are fairly similar to those in Europe, hepatitis A features heavily and the same vaccinations are generally recommended for those on a working holiday or staying for longer periods as for Europe. Malaria is more of a problem here, so you will almost certainly need to take anti-malarial medication with you whichever country you visit.

Africa

Again, the recommended vaccines are not that different from Europe or South America for package holidays and the workers/long term holiday makers. The big difference here is that for many African countries a meningitis vaccination is recommended, and malaria is a risk almost everywhere.

Asia

Generally the same rules apply as to Europe, South America and Africa, but the Japanese B encephalitis vaccine is recommended if you are travelling to numerous Asian nations. Malaria is still an issue, although risk varies widely depending on your destination.

Australasia

Very little to worry about here, hepatitis A is recommended and the usual rules apply to long term visitors. They have strict rules about yellow fever (see below) on the whole but nothing much else.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is caused by a virus that can be caught through a bite from an infected mosquito. It only occurs in certain parts of Africa, and if you are visiting any of those areas then vaccination is certainly recommended. If you are visiting multiple countries during your travels and are travelling from a yellow fever area to one that has no yellow fever, the area without yellow fever will often ask you to provide a certificate confirming that you have been vaccinated before letting you in.

Please, please, please get organised and visit your surgery as soon as you can if you are planning to go abroad this year – you will have better immunity and far less stress if you get all this sorted in plenty of time, then you can head out to your dream destination having had all the last minute time to do the last minute things and have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that while no vaccine is a total guarantee that you will be illness free (do still follow advice about mosquito bite prevention etc), at least you have done everything you can.

Have a wonderful summer holiday!

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