Between 20% to 40% of travelers visiting tropical or developing countries get diarrhea and 1% will get ill with malaria. That’s why I’m going to give you some advice on vaccination for travelers. And believe me, if you travel a lot, it’s worth to read it.
This year I had my first business trips to Brazil and India. First, I did Brazil and a few weeks later India. I came back from India a week ago. Both trips were ok, nothing happened but I was really good prepared. I didn’t want to risk any serious illness or stomach problems like the one when I got sick in Shanghai at the end of 2018. The good thing is that for most of the risks you can prepare yourself in advance and I’m going to tell you how.
Visit the Travel Doctor to Know If You Need a Vaccination for Travelers
Long story short is that you have to go to the physician specialized in travel medicine. The key thing is to go there in advance. As my doctor said, the best is to have a visit between 6 to 8 weeks before the departure.
Is Vaccination for Travellers Mandatory?
Well, it depends. Your doc will tell you if it’s necessary based on the country you are going to visit. Currently, the only mandatory vaccination, required from Europeans who would like to enter to some tropical countries (especially Africa and South America) is a vaccination against Yellow Fever. This is a nasty thing – it’s a viral hemorrhagic fever transmitted by mosquitoes in the tropical part of Africa and South America. Travelers rarely suffer from this disease, however, mortality among people not vaccinated with a severe course of the disease reaches 80%. As my doctor said, vaccination for travelers is the best way to protect against yellow fever and is mandatory in many countries.
International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis
The registry of your mandatory vaccination for travelers is held in a yellow book called International Certificate of Vaccination also known as “travelers medical passport”. This is an important document in case of traveling to areas where vaccination is mandatory. The yellow book is worldwide accepted evidence of your vaccination and without it, the immigration officers can refuse you to enter the country, force you to vaccinate at the border or put you under quarantine at your own cost.
How to Choose the Right Vaccination for Travelers Before You Go Abroad?
As it was said some paragraphs above, the best vaccinations for you should be selected by the specialized travel medicine physician. It will depend on your travel destination, the purpose of your trip, your age, health condition and already taken vaccinations. Again, do it early enough as most of the vaccination for travelers need some time to be effective.
Side Effects of Vaccination for Travelers
To be fair, I have to share with you also the dark (or maybe gray) side of vaccination for travelers. The vaccine is nothing else like dead bugs injected to your body to give your immune system a chance to first, recognize the enemy, and then to learn to fight – it’s more like a training. The vaccine for yellow fever is the nasty one as this is active vaccine – the bugs are still alive. My doctor warned me that it’s likely I will feel not to good after vaccination and in case of fever I should immediately show up to her.
Of course, 3 days after vaccination I got sick like hell. I was a bit scared as I had stomach problems, headache, and fever – all symptoms which my doc described as a red alert to show up. Fortunately, after blood tests, it appeared that it was some other infection, not related to the yellow fever vaccine.
Two weeks later I got the rest of the vaccines prescribed for me (viral hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, typhoid, cholera) and I was ready for visits, first in Brazil and then in India.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
My doc showed me the CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site where under “Travelers’ Health” anybody can check the current epidemiological situation in the travel destination. You will find there warnings and alerts about outbreaks, earthquakes, cyclones and other health risks. A very useful source of information for travelers.
Basic Survival Know-How for Tropical Countries
There are three main rules which I’m following when I’m in tropical countries:
1. Stay Away From Mosquitos
Mosquitos are carriers of the most dangerous diseases. Therefore, you should avoid bites at all costs. Just to name some of the nasty things transmitted by these insects:
- Dengue, Yellow Fever
- Japanese Encephalitis
- Western Nile Fever
Unfortunately, mosquitos love tropical heat. Therefore you have to focus on protection. Most common methods are:
- Use Bug Sprays (check bug sprays on Amazon) applied to skin, clothing, or other surfaces
- Use sprays containing an active ingredient with proven effectiveness like DEET, Icaridin or IR3535
- Check the content of the active ingredient. The more the longer protection lasts
- Pick always airconditioned rooms
- Long trousers, long sleeves, and socks will also protect you
- Use plug-in devices to fight with mosquitos. I use plug-in repellent with liquid (check repellents on Amazon). Works really good.
The best is to combine methods to get the best protection.
2. Drink Only Bottled Water
Contaminated with microorganisms meals and drinks in the tropics can cause not only travelers’ diarrhea but also many other serious deceases which have to be treated in hospitals. Therefore it’s better to stick to the following rules. First, let’s start with drinks:
- Avoid tap water or any drinks/water from an unknown source. Trust only bottled water.
- Avoid ice – this should be also for you the water of unknown source.
- Never drink tap water as in many developing countries tap water is heavily polluted with germs.
- Wash your teeth in bottled water
- When you take the shower do not let even small drops of water to get to your mouth. One of my colleagues told me that if you will take the candy and keep your mouth busy while taking a shower, you will not swallow any water. This works – I did tests.
- Be careful with fruits which people use to eat without peeling like apples, pears, etc. – probably somebody washed them under tap water. That’s no go for me – I just don’t eat those.
3. Eat Only Heat-Treated Food
Ok, now let’s focus on food. There is a saying valid for all tropical countries:
Boil, brew, peel or get ill
and it’s totally true. Keep this in mind and follow these rules to stay fit in tropics:
- Eat only heat-treated food
- Do not eat street food. Why? I will tell you why. Once I observed one of the street food owners keeping the ingredients (including meat) under the table while the temperature reached 37 degrees… Imagine what happens with meat in this temperature waiting 8 hours for its turn to be grilled…
- Stay away of raw or bearly cooked eggs, milk, dairy products, mayonnaise, and dips
Now, let’s assume that you followed all the rules and nothing bad happened. However, even vaccination for travelers and all above-mentioned methods to avoid bugs bites and food poisoning does not guarantee that you will avoid getting sick. Therefore, contact your doctor immediately and tell him that you were in tropics if any of below happen:
- Fever or other symptoms after return from an exotic trip (especially areas at risk of malaria)
- If you have been exposed to a serious infectious disease during your trip
- In case of sickness symptoms during the journey (even in the case of mild discomfort which will be gone till you return)
- After a long stay in (>3 months) in the country with high health risk (see CDC site to know which are those)
- After traveling in particularly difficult sanitary conditions
What Else? Final Words
It’s time to wrap up. What is worth to remember from this article is to go to the travel medicine doctor and ask for vaccination for travelers, avoid bug bites, stay away from the tap water and be careful with food and drinks. This should be enough to bring you back home safe and in one piece.
Hopefully, this text will help some of you to avoid dramatic stories. If you would like to know some more ideas on healthy traveling, read on my stories on how to survive long haul flights, how to overcome jet lag and other health risks of travel.
Featured image: Pixabay.com