Planning to travel abroad soon? Most likely, given our current pandemic, the answer to this question is no—for now. However, Covid-19 presents us the perfect example of how infectious diseases can travel from place to place. Today, we’re dealing with a highly infectious respiratory virus that began in China and has traveled the globe.
Therefore, it goes without saying that international travel can carry risks that should be addressed well before traveling. In fact, it is best to see either your primary care provider or someone who offers travel medicine at least one month before you plan to leave the country. You should be informed of risks, advised on how to avoid becoming ill, and yes, be given travel vaccinations if they are recommended or required for any of your destinations. This advice is not just meant for vacationers. The traveling population that most often forgets about travel vaccinations and ends up with an illness are those people going where they used to live to visit friends and family. So, whether you are traveling internationally for pleasure, business, or a visit back home, don’t forget to schedule an appointment to review risks and receive travel vaccinations.
Finding the Right Advice
Before you leave the country, it is important to find the right medical advice far enough in advance for you to take precautions. Some of the nurse practitioners at FamilyCare of Kent are knowledgeable about travel medicine and are prepared to give you the advice and vaccinations you need.
Be sure to bring an accurate itinerary of your trip with all stops, layovers, and planned activities, so your preparation will be tailored to your trip. Your initial visit will give you valuable information on what vaccinations are recommended, what infectious illnesses are common in the places you are going, and what things you can do to prevent illnesses while traveling abroad.
Common Travel Vaccinations
The yellow fever vaccine, meningococcal vaccine, typhoid vaccine, hepatitis A vaccine, hepatitis B vaccine, polio, rabies vaccine, cholera, and Japanese encephalitis vaccines are all available in the United States. Your destination and planned activities will determine which are recommended for you. In addition, your entire family should be up to date on any recommended vaccines regularly available in the United States, such as the Flu vaccine, the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, and tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine.
- Yellow Fever is an infection caused by a virus that is transmitted by a mosquito bite. It is very common in areas near the equator. If infected, the older you are, the greater threat of severe illness, which could range from a mild fever to kidney and liver damage, and even death. Some countries require vaccination for entry, even if you only have an airport layover greater than 12 hours, but other countries where there is a risk of infection have no requirements, which is why discussing this with your travel medicine provider is so important. The vaccine is recommended for anyone who is not pregnant or immunocompromised, 9 months or older. It is a live virus vaccine, so it needs to be given at least 30 days before or after any other live virus vaccine.
- Meningococcal Meningitis is a severe bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the brain and often, death. There are specific strains of this type of infection that are common in areas of Africa. Not all meningococcal vaccines that have been administered routinely in the past have covered all the strains of the virus. If you are traveling to Africa or South America, it is important to ask your provider about this vaccine before travel.
- Typhoid Fever is a bacterial illness that can be transmitted orally. It is caused by a Salmonella infection and is very common in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, especially in areas of overcrowding and poor sanitation. There are antibiotics to treat this infection, however, resistant strains have developed, which could lead to fever, abdominal cramps, and if untreated, rose spots, liver problems, and death. An oral and an injectable vaccine are available, and your travel medicine provider will be able to advise which would be right for you.
- Hepatitis A is a viral infection that is passed orally. Since 2006, infants in the United States are recommended to receive this vaccine, but if you declined, or if you never had the vaccine, there is a risk of one family member being infected and passing it to others. Hepatitis A attacks the liver and causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal distress, and high levels of bile in the blood and urine. Most cases resolve naturally, but liver failure can occur. The virus is found most commonly in developing countries. Some providers recommend the vaccine for those traveling to areas with a high risk of hepatitis A, while others recommend receiving this vaccine before any travel abroad.
- Hepatitis B is a virus that is passed through bodily fluids. It also attacks the liver, causing liver inflammation. Some people only get a short infection, while others develop chronic hepatitis. These individuals are prone to more severe long-term complications. Currently, children in the United States, as well as healthcare workers and others who may come in contact with bodily fluids are recommended to receive this vaccine, which is a series of 3 injections.
- Rabies is a viral disease transmitted by dogs, bats, and other animals. If infected, brain inflammation and death are likely. There is a very high risk of rabies in many countries of Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America. If you are traveling to one of these areas and may be in contact with animals, this is a recommended vaccine. Remember that children are more likely to interact with animals than adults, putting them at even greater risk.
- Japanese Encephalitis is a disease caused by a virus that is transmitted through a mosquito bite. It is the most common cause of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in Asia. The illness can result in fever, chills, headaches, seizures, and death. It is common in most of Asia and part of the Western Pacific. The highest risk occurs at specific times of the year. Your travel medical advisor will be able to guide you on whether or not this vaccine is needed to keep you and your family safe.
Other Travel Precautions
In addition to providing vaccine advice, your pre-travel visit will include helpful information to keep your family healthy during your trip abroad. Food and water are often sources of illnesses, especially in developing countries and areas where sanitation is poor. You may be advised to eat only cooked food that is hot and drink bottled drinks without ice, depending on your destination. Remember that even fresh fruits and vegetables can be sources of illness. Hand washing before eating is always recommended to avoid illness.
Insects bites are probably the next worrisome problem with traveling. Understanding the times of day that mosquitos are active in the areas you are traveling can help keep you safe. Ask for advice on mosquito repellants. Specifically, malaria is an infection that can be transmitted by mosquitos in certain areas of the world. If your provider determines you may be at risk, you may be advised to take medication before your trip to prevent infection.
Travel Vaccinations and Primary Care in Kent, Washington
The family nurse practitioners at FamilyCare at Kent look forward to helping you plan a safe trip for you or your family. At FamilyCare of Kent, our family nurse practitioners believe in patient-centered care that is safe and effective, and in helping you stay healthy while at home or abroad. We treat our patients as individuals, so their care is tailored to their needs. If you are planning to travel, make an appointment to meet with NP Maddy Wiley one of our family nurse practitioners. Call (253) 859-2273 today, or request an appointment online. We look forward to being your partner on the path to good health.