It’s the season for making summer plans, which often include travel to delightful and sometimes exotic foreign destinations. You also might have kids who are heading off on student exchange programs or adventure tours overseas. In either case, you’re probably busy nailing down the best deals on air travel, checking whether you have the right clothes for your destination and making sure your passport is up to date.
There’s something else that needs to be up to date for travel: your vaccinations. This needs your attention right now.
Depending on where you go, you might not need any vaccinations – or you could need a long list of them for diseases that are rare to nonexistent in the United States. Travel to France doesn’t require anything special in the way of vaccination; in contrast, a trip to India might entail immunization against typhoid, cholera and Japanese encephalitis as well as medication to prevent malaria.
Your own personal health history also will help determine which vaccinations you need. Pregnant women, elderly people or those with compromised immune systems will have their own needs.
Conveniently for you, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has you covered. Its destination guide for travelers is extremely easy to use, allowing you to choose from a comprehensive list of destinations, and then check off which health issues pertain to you. It then gives you a list of the vaccinations that most travelers fitting that description need for that destination, and an additional list for those that only some travelers to that area need. It also explains why each one might be needed.
What many travelers tend to overlook, however, is that they need to be vaccinated against more than the illnesses that are specific to other areas; they also need to ensure that they are up to date on the routine shots on the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule.
Diphtheria, for example, which has been all but wiped out in the United States, is still endemic to several foreign nations. Protection against the disease is included in the same vaccine that protects against tetanus and whooping cough. Hepatitis A is far more common in many other countries than it is here, and the vaccine is recommended for many destinations.
Measles outbreaks in this country are generally brought here by people either coming from abroad, or from Americans who just returned from foreign travel. Measles, which can be a very serious disease, is no longer endemic to the United States but is found in many other countries. Making sure you’re vaccinated will protect you, and also ensure that you won’t bring the highly contagious disease home.
“Each year, unvaccinated travelers get measles and bring it home. This has sometimes led to outbreaks,” the CDC cautions on its website. “The majority of measles cases brought into the United States come from U.S. residents who were traveling abroad.
“Vaccination is the best protection against measles. Before going to a foreign country, make sure you and your family are immune to measles. Ask your doctor if anyone in your family needs MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.”
Keep in mind also that though it will be summer here, and the worst of flu season is behind us, the Southern Hemisphere will be in the thick of winter and its own flu season. Making sure you’ve had a flu shot is generally a good idea for travel.
The website TravelReadyMD provides this eye-catching information: “Influenza is by far the most common infection contracted by international travelers that is preventable by a vaccine.” It calls the flu vaccine “your least glamourous/best value vaccine.”
The CDC has another useful tool for determining which routine vaccinations you might need in addition to destination-specific ones. If you check the box that says you’ll be traveling, as well as the other boxes that pertain to you, it will give you a personalized list of vaccinations to consider.
Don’t wait to get going on this. It might take a couple of weeks for some vaccines to become fully effective, the CDC advises, and some require a series of shots. Check out the CDC lists and make an appointment with your doctor – and then go find those passports!
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