When traveling in some of the more remote areas, you may have to get some shots to avoid catching anything. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of nowhere and feeling like you are about to die. Who can appreciate the joys of exploring exotic locations when you’d sell your grandmother for directions to the nearest toilet?

Whatever your destination, the best possible pre-travel preparation is essential to protecting your health while away. Some vaccines are compulsory and you’ll have a hard time crossing the borders without the correct documentation. Other vaccines are simply recommended… No matter where you are going, its a good idea to insure that your childhood immunizations are up to date.

Vaccination is a highly effective method of preventing certain infectious diseases. For the individual, and for society in terms of public health, prevention is better and more cost effective than cure. If you have to get numerous jabs, ask your doctor about combined vaccines as they offer important advantages for travelers, by reducing the number of injections required and the amount of time involved, so aiding compliance. Combination vaccines are just as safe and effective as the individual single-disease vaccines.

You shouldn’t assume that there is no risk of catching the disease(s) against which you have been vaccinated. Additional precautions against infection should be followed carefully, regardless of any vaccines or other medication that have been administered.

It is important to remember that vaccines have not yet been developed against several of the most life threatening infections including malaria, and HIV/AIDS. An increasing number of countries have established regulations regarding AIDS testing, particularly for long term visitors. You should check with the embassy to verify if this is a requirement for entry.

The protective effect of vaccines take some time to develop following the vaccination. Travellers are advised to consult a travel medicine clinic or personal physician 4-6 weeks before departure if the travel destination is one where exposure to any vaccine-preventable diseases may occur.

Here are some of the recommended diseases to be protected against…

It is wise to keep up to date with your Tetanus jabs, but this is usually given with diphtheria and requires a booster every 10 years (3 doses given at 4-week intervals). Tetanus can be found in soil and animal droppings. Symptoms include severe muscle cramps which can lead to death.

Polio is usually given orally and lasts for up to 10 years. This is generally given in childhood and a full course is 3 doses at 4-week intervals. Polio can be contracted through contaminated food and water but if you have had the relevant immunizations then it is very unlikely you will catch it.

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver transmitted by the fecal-oral route. You can be infected through poor personal hygiene and through ill-prepared food – especially shellfish – or through sexual contact with someone who is infected. Hepatitis A is the most common vaccine-preventable infection in travellers. While travelling overseas, the risk of contracting Hepatitis A depends on your living conditions, length of stay and the incidence of Hepatitis A infection in the area visited.

Symptoms include flu like aches and pains, yellowing of the eyes and skin, and dark urine. Symptoms usually occur with in 2 to 8 weeks after coming into contact with the virus. All travellers should have the Hepatitis A vaccine as the benefits far outweigh the risks. Should you contract Hepatitis A, there is not much you can do other than rest, drink lots of fluids, avoid fatty foods and alcohol for some time after the illness.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B vaccinations are recommended for long-term travellers and can now be combined with the Hep A jab. You are at risk of Hepatitis B through sexual contact, blood transfusions and other occurrences where you could come into contact with an infected person’s blood (body piercing, tattoos etc), or other bodily secretions. People can acquire the disease by sharing things like toothbrushes, razors or needles used to inject drugs.

Risk of Hepatitis B infection occurs worldwide throughout the year but the risk varies significantly in various parts of the world. Hep B hotspots are China, SE Asia, most of Africa, the Pacific islands, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, parts of the Middle East, the Amazon Basin and the Indian Sub-continent.

Vaccination is the most reliable protection against Hep B, however you should always practice good personal hygiene and use condoms during sexual activity. Symptoms are similar to Hepatitis A but more severe.

This vaccine can give you some uncomfortable side-effects (flu-like symptoms) but is recommended if you are travelling for more than 2 weeks. Typhoid occurs when personal and environmental hygiene standards are low and is often transmitted via food & drink.

Meningococcal Meningitis
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain and can be caused by bacteria, a virus, or fungus. Meningococcal infections occur worldwide but are most common in poor, overcrowded areas. Epidemics occur frequently in high risk areas including Sub Saharan Africa – Senegal, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda; other areas of concern include India and Nepal.
Meningitis bacteria enter the body through the upper respiratory tract. People acquire the disease by inhaling the bacteria, by kissing an infected person or coming into contact with recently contaminated objects. Symptoms include fever, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea and a widespread blotchy purple rash. Seek medical help IMMEDIATELY if any of the above occur as meningitis can progress rapidly leading to convulsions, coma and death.

All pilgrims to during the annual pilgrimage to the Haj are required to be vaccinated as well as all travelers to Saudi Arabia.

Japanese B Encephalitis
Transmitted through the bite of a mosquito, this epidemic spreads sporadically, generally through rural areas. The risk of catching Japanese Encephalitis is greatest in SE Asia, especially during monsoon periods. The culprit mosquitoes are usually found in areas of ground water, typically irrigated rice paddies. The virus can live in animals such as wading birds and pigs without it affecting them.

The first line of defence is mosquito avoidance. The vaccine is three doses over 1 month and, with the booster after 2 years, will give protection for up to 3 years. About 100,000 cases are reported annually but the disease is underreported in poorer countries. Symptoms are similar to Meningitis and include sudden onset of fever and sensitivity to bright light. Seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY as in some individuals it can progress to neck stiffness and coma that can result in death or permanent brain damage.

Rabies is a viral infection of the central nervous system and is transmitted through the infected saliva of an animal bite with bites to the face and hands carrying an especially high rate of infection. The best precaution is to not pet animals. There are usually no symptoms during the incubation period of 5 days to 1 year. As the disease progresses one goes from a feeling of being unwell to muscle spasms, convulsion, hyper salivation to coma, cardiac or respiratory failure and eventually death. Once symptoms of Rabies are evident, painful death is inevitable and can not be stopped.

If you are bitten seek medical help IMMEDIATELY. Symptoms include fever, extremely sore throat & fear of water, extreme sensitivity to light & sound and severe burning around the wound.

Yellow Fever
The Yellow Fever vaccine is compulsory for travel to parts of Africa and South America where the viral disease thrives. Saudi Arabia has recently introduced a requirement of the Yellow Fever vaccination for all pilgrims to the Haj. It is interesting to note that the Yellow Fever vaccine is the only vaccine that is compulsory for travel to certain countries under international regulations.

Yellow Fever is transmitted through a mosquito bite. Symptoms appear 3 to 6 days after being bitten and include fever, stomach pain, vomiting. Severe jaundicing quickly follows. You will need to present your yellow fever certificate at immigration so check with your doctor or travel clinic for an up to date list of relevant countries.

The vaccine is very effective and you are only likely to enter an infected zone in rural areas. The vaccine can often cause a slight fever, dizziness and a sore arm and is not recommended for people who have a sensitivity to eggs.