Top five immunizations for adventure travelers

immunizationsSpending a lot of money to get poked with a needle may not be at the top of your pre-trip to-do list, but it should be. While some countries require proof of certain immunizations before they theoretically permit entry (details later in this post), there are a couple of vaccinations all travelers should get, barring any prohibitive allergies.

Getting vaccinated greatly reduces or virtually eliminates the odds of contracting certain serious illnesses or travel-related diseases, and helps prevent the spread of contagions. This is especially critical in developing countries, where there is generally little in the way of preventative or active health care, and lack of sanitation provides a fertile breeding ground for disease. As is true at home, infants, children, the elderly, and immuno-compromised are at greatest risk.

I consulted with Dr. John Szumowski, Clinical Fellow of the University of Washington Medical Center’s Division of Allergy and Infectious Disease, for expert advice before compiling the following list. As he pointed out, it’s tricky to generalize which immunizations are most important, since it depends upon where you’re going, and what you’re doing there.

That said, all of the immunizations on this list are a good idea if you travel frequently to developing nations, even if it’s for business or budget travel. They are especially important to have if you eat street food or visit rural areas.

The top five, after the jump.

[Photo credit: Flickr user johnnyalive]immunizations1. Flu
With flu epidemics making annual headlines, there’s no reason not to get a flu shot. This is especially true if you fly frequently or use other forms of public transit. Think of an airplane as a flying petri dish; why risk ruining your trip, or exposing others if you’re coming down with something? If you have an underlying health condition such as asthma, diabetes, or other lung or heart disease, it’s of particular importance to get immunized.

2. Tetanus
I grew up on a ranch, so tetanus shots have always been a part of my life. Many people don’t think about getting a tetanus vaccine, however, and as Dr. Szumowski points out, “It’s under-appreciated, and worth getting prior to travel given challenges of obtaining adequate, timely wound care.” Beats lockjaw, any day.

3. Hepatitis A
“Hepatitis A is common and can occasionally be quite serious,” cautions Dr. Szumowski. “For anyone with underlying liver disease (e.g. chronic hepatitis B or C) this is an especially important vaccination.”

4. Polio
Polio hasn’t been fully eradicated in parts of the developing world, so an inactivated poliovirus booster is important when traveling to areas where it’s still a problem, such as Nigeria and India.
immunizations
5. Typhoid
This vaccine can be taken either orally or by injection. Be aware that you must avoid mefloquine (an anti-malarial) or antibiotics within 24 hours of the vaccine doses.

Additional vaccines
Depending upon your destination, you may also require, by law, a Yellow Fever (tropical South America and sub-Saharan Africa), or Japanese Encephalitis/JE vaccination (parts of Asia and the Western Pacific). Dr. Szumowski recommends JE vaccine if you’re traveling for an extended (over one month) period in rural areas of affected countries.

Rabies vaccine isn’t usually recommended, but if you travel extensively in developing nations or have/expect frequent contact with animals, it’s a good idea. I’ve had a couple of canine-related experiences that have sold me on the idea. Dr. Szumowski notes that “excellent wound care and post-bite medical evaluation are still needed,” even if you’ve had a rabies pre-exposure vaccination.

Tips
It’s critical to allow ample time before your trip to allow the protective effects of the vaccines to establish themselves. Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccinations page for more information on what’s required and epidemic updates, if applicable. Often, your GP, internist, or local drugstore can provide some of these vaccinations; others require a specialist. For locations of a travel medicine clinic near you, click here.

Carry your immunization card with you as proof of vaccination, and email yourself a scanned copy, as well. The same goes for copies of your medical insurance cards.

Practice good hygiene and get enough rest, inasmuch as possible, while traveling, to maintain a healthy immune system. Airborne and Emergen-C are great immunoboosters to carry with you.

Consider travel insurance if you’ll be in a remote or sketchy area, or engaging in high-risk outdoor pursuits.

[Photo credits: swine flu, Flickr user ALTO CONTRASTE Edgar AVG. (away); polio, Flickr user Cambodia Trust;

50% of air travelers will fly with the flu to avoid a fee

I’m a one of the those people who always seems to get sick after a long plane ride. A few days post-trip, I suddenly get a runny nose, sore throat and all the other telltale signs of a cold, most likely contracted from a sick passenger. Usually it’s minor, and I’m out of commission for only a few days.

I guess I’ve just been lucky that it hasn’t been the flu, because, according to a recent TripAdvisor survey, over 50% of travelers would choose flying with the flu over paying a fee to change their flight. As if we needed more reason to get a flu shot before we travel this season, now we know that someone with the flu may end up on our flight, just to avoid the fee.

Out of 2,327 people, 51% said they would fly while sick with the flu rather than pay the $150-$200 fee (plus any change in price) imposed by most airlines in order to change their flights to a later date. This is obviously, alarming news, but I can see why it is the case that people would rather cough up some germs on their fellow passengers than cough up the extra cash to change the tickets. Especially because costs for the new dates will often be higher, meaning you may end up paying more like $300-$400 per ticket for the change.

In the case of inescapable commitments, I can understand why someone would not change the ticket. But for a leisure trip, I would consider it. Of course, I don’t want to get others sick, but from a purely selfish standpoint, I don’t want to spend my time in the air shaking and shivering with the flu, or to spend my entire vacation laid up in bed. But then again…if I felt well enough to get on the plane despite having the flu, I would definitely do it rather than incur the extra charges and have to change all my travel plans.

On his blog, Christopher Elliot offers a solution – airlines need to lower or waive the change fees during flu season. We need to stop financially penalizing those who get sick and allow them to change their flights easily, or they will continue to fly and risk spreading the flu to other passengers.

Going on a trip? Stop and get a flu shot at the airport

Luggage? Check. Passport? Check. Flu shot? If you’ve yet to get yours, you can take care of the task on the way to your next flight at clinics set up in several airports around the US.

Among the nearly 20 airports that will be offering flu shots beginning within the next few weeks are Atlanta, Boston Logan, O’Hare, Denver, Honolulu, LAX, JFK, and San Francisco. Costs range from $20 to $35, which is about what you’d pay at most clinics, unless your insurance covers it. Hours vary by location, but all are open from at least 8am to 4pm on weekdays. Currently, airport locations are only offering the regular seasonal flu vaccine. The H1N1 flu vaccine may be offered at these locations when it becomes available.

I’ll confess: I have never gotten a flu shot. I try my best to avoid being poked with a needle so the thought of actually requesting it seems counter-intuitive. I know I should get it though. 200,000 people were hospitalized for the flu last year, and travelers like myself who spend a lot of time breathing recycled air in the close quarters of planes may be at an increased risk. There’s also this little thing you may have heard of, called the H1N1 “swine” flu, which the CDC expects will reach pandemic proportions. It just makes sense to get the vaccine. And now getting a flu shot won’t even require a special trip to my doctor. I’m out of excuses. I may have to muster up some courage at the airport bar first, but it looks like my next vacation will start off with a flu shot.

Check out full details on airport clinic hours and costs here.