Spring break is almost here and many families’ plans include travel during this vacation period. While journeying as a family is a great way to bond and have fun, there are some health preparations you need to make if you intend to travel to a foreign destination. Specifically, you should make certain all family members are up-to-date on their regular vaccinations and then obtain any necessary inoculations specific to your destination region.
The Importance of Routine Vaccinations
Before you begin to chart your journey, it’s recommended that every member of your family be current on their routine vaccinations. These are the vaccinations that most everyone in the United States needs and include “childhood” inoculations like the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the chicken pox vaccine. Your yearly flu shot and regular 10-year tetanus booster are also part of your routine vaccinations.
Routine vaccinations are important even at home, but they are especially crucial for travelers because some areas are subject to diseases that are not commonly seen in the US. For example, certain parts of Asia have regular outbreaks of mumps and measles while these illnesses are rare in the US.
Why It’s Important to Share Travel Information with Your Doctor
When planning your travel vaccinations, it’s beneficial to inform your doctor of your itinerary, including specific regions and activities, in order to most accurately determine the vaccinations you will need. For example, if you are traveling to India, you will only need a cholera vaccine if you plan to visit a region with an active cholera outbreak. Also, if you are staying over a month in India, you may require a Japanese encephalitis vaccine.
Your intended vacation activities also matter. You likely will not need rabies immunizations unless you plan to explore a bat cave or interact with wild animals on your trip. Similarly, you may only require anti-malarial treatments if you spend nights outdoors.
Additionally, be certain your doctor is aware of any medical issues in your family. Certain medical conditions, like a weakened immune system, may impact the vaccines you require.
Minimize Your Risks During Travel Activities
Avoiding risky behavior during travel can be just as important as getting your travel vaccinations. For example, typhoid is present in many foreign locations, and drinking tap or well water can expose you to this disease. In addition to receiving the typhoid vaccine, you should only drink bottled water in these areas.
Other ill-advised activities include consuming raw foods or even foods that are under-done, like rare beef. You should also avoid getting a tattoo or piercing while in a foreign journey to avoid exposure to hepatitis and other bloodborne pathogens. Educate yourself on how to best mitigate your disease risks when traveling by speaking with your family doctor.
A Note on Yellow Fever
While reading the CDC’s travel health website, you will likely notice several warnings concerning yellow fever. Many nations require proof of vaccination against this disease but only from travelers arriving from locations where yellow fever is endemic. The US is not such a place.
Yellow fever is only considered endemic in the tropical regions of South America and throughout sub-Saharan Africa. If you are planning travel to these areas, you will likely need yellow fever vaccinations before your trip.
The Sooner, The Better
Some vaccines are given in a series of inoculations, so it is always better to get your travel vaccines sooner rather than later. You do not want to have to delay your trip or cancel arrangements because you lack important immunizations. By preparing early, you can be sure your family is protected against diseases they may encounter, and you can instead focus on having fun and making pleasant memories.
Remember, your PACT primary care physician should be your first stop for travel vaccinations. If necessary, they can refer you to a travel medicine specialist or a travel vaccination clinic. You can find a PACT primary care doctor by searching here.
For a breakdown of required and recommended vaccinations by country, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website here.
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