Vaccinations Before Travel: What You Need to Know

Receiving proper vaccinations before traveling to certain regions of the world is highly recommended, and oftentimes required. However, it’s not always clear when and where vaccinations are necessary.

To help clarify, Health Talk spoke with Mark R. Schleiss, M.D., co-director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Translational Research (CIDMTR) at the University of Minnesota.

“In terms of vaccinations, recommendations vary depending upon what part of the world you are traveling to, what your travel plans entail, and how long you’re going to be away.”

Schleiss explained that Latin America is currently under a heavy travel watch due to the Zika virus.

“Although Zika activity has begun to wane through seasonal reductions in mosquitoes, it is still a major threat, particularly to young women. Almost all countries in Central and South America report Zika activity.”

There is no approved vaccination for Zika and there is now a travel alert in areas prone to Zika virus.

In contrast, there are many viruses and diseases that do have vaccinations and it is crucial to receive these vaccinations before travel.

“It’s important for travelers to realize that diseases that are rare in the U.S. (due to immunizations) are common in many parts of the developing world. In particular, the traveler should make sure that he or she is up-to-date on immunizations for polio and measles. Many parts of the world, in particular the Philippines, have seen devastating outbreaks of measles in recent years”

Making sure that “common” childhood vaccinations are all up-to-date is crucial.

Other considerations include vaccines for Meningitis, particularly if traveling to the “Meningitis Belt” located in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis Virus, Rabies, Malaria, and Yellow Fever.

One major vaccine, that has just gained licensure this year, is for Dengue fever. Dengue is the most common mosquito-borne infection in the world and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 40 percent of the world’s population live in areas where dengue viruses can be transmitted.

“Dengue fever is found throughout the world, but mainly occurs in tropical and subtropical areas, and it is very common in regions of Africa, Central and South America (including Puerto Rico), the Caribbean, the Eastern Mediterranean, South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania.”

Vaccinations are vital for ensuring health and safety while traveling. Schleiss insists on contacting your health care provider well in advance of travel to learn about what vaccinations are necessary.

Many immunizations require multiple doses and time is required to become fully immunized and the CDC recommends a minimum of six-eight weeks prior to travel.