The Ultimate Guide To Travel Vaccinations.

the-ultimate-guide-to-travel-vaccinations

As a qualified nurse with specialisms in both emergency nursing and travel medicine I cannot emphasise enough how important travel vaccines are to protect yourself when you are travelling the world. So to help steer you through all the confusing jargon and give you the essentials you need to know, here is my ultimate guide to travel vaccinations on your gap year. 

If you are planning a gap year, round the world trip or even a short trip to a specific destination, it is essential that you get your travel vaccines sorted out before you go. Luckily you have the advice of someone who is not only a qualified nurse but is also a world traveller so know first hand how, where and why vaccinations are useful.

What are vaccines?

Vaccines are simply compounds that contain small amounts of inactivated viruses or bacteria that cause disease. These will not give you the disease because they have been altered and are inactivated, but they will stimulate your body to produce the antibodies required to fight the disease if it is encountered naturally.

Where to get advice.

There are plenty of reputable sources online such as the Travel Health Pro (formerly NaTHNaC) website, the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or the NHS’ Fit For Travel website. The Fit For Travel Destination Map is a genuinely useful resource that can give you specific recommendations based on what country or countries you are travelling through. These are excellent resources but it is important to remember that there is just as much false information online too, so your own online research should never be a substitute for qualified advice.

My online travel clinic cannot physically administer the vaccinations to you but is the ideal place to get immediate qualified advice online of what you need, and I can advise you where to go next.

There are a lot of places you can get good, qualified advice about which vaccinations to get. Your GP is a good general all rounder to start off with, and pharmacists are medication specialists who can give you solid information on each vaccination. Your local travel clinic with a qualified travel nurse specialist is often your best bet though (and you will need to make an appointment with them when you actually want the jabs anyway).

Where to go for the vaccinations.

It is always a good idea to shop around as prices can vary between private clinics and your GP. GPs are often cheaper and can provide individual advice based on your past medical history, but the cheapest option isn’t always the best either if you have to wait a lot longer for them to order in stock or want specialist advice.

In the UK, GP surgeries provide the hepatitis A, typhoid and combined diptheria, tetanus and polio vaccines free of charge if you do not have them already. Polio and meningitis vaccines are also sometimes offered at a significant discount.

Private travel clinics are often a good idea too if you need to be seen quickly, but they aren’t always the cheapest option and depending on where you live they aren’t always the closest option either.

In the UK Masta have a variety of travel clinics run by specialist travel nurses in many pharmacies and some major STA travel stores as well. The London Travel Clinic is handy only if you live in the capital or are prepared to travel. The NHS has a travel clinic in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine has the Well Travelled Clinics in Liverpool and Chester. High street pharmacies such as Boots and Superdrug also have travel clinics available in limited locations.

Yellow fever vaccinations can only be given out at accredited yellow fever vaccination centres.

What things do you need to consider?

You need to plan well ahead when you are getting your vaccines. Some vaccines such as rabies need multiple visits, and others have to be timed so that they are given a certain length of time apart or be allowed time to work effectively before you travel. This is why you need to visit your GP or travel clinic at least 2 months before you travel depending on how many vaccinations you need.

It is also important to note that whilst vaccinations are amongst the best protection you can get they are not 100% either, and it is still essential that you take reasonable precautions and preventative measures to stop you becoming ill or contracting a disease from food, water, insects and other animals.

What things are considered when advising what vaccines are necessary?

When deciding on what travel vaccinations will be needed there are three primary things that need to be considered. Your past medical and vaccination history (which includes your general health, age and other physical factors), where you are going and what you will be doing there. These three things will determine the strength of the recommendation for any given vaccines.

For example if two travellers are heading to the same tropical country with the same list of needed vaccines, the one who is spending just a few days there staying in an air conditioned hotel in a major city will not require the same vaccines as the next traveller who will be spending months volunteering with animals in a rural community. There is also the fact that there are regional outbreaks and local conditions specific to each country to take into account, such as the current prevalence of rabies and the lack of vaccine stock in Bali which  strengthens the recommendation for that vaccine considerably.

This is why it is important to seek out qualified, specialist advice.

Travel Vaccinations.

do I need travel vaccinations

Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a serious viral infection that can cause liver problems or even failure. This is a virus present in faeces and is usually caught by consuming contaminated food or water. It is common throughout Asia, Africa and Central and South America.

The vaccination is recommended for travel anywhere, but is particularly recommended to those travelling to any developing country where sanitation is poor. Good personal hygiene and hand washing – especially before eating – is also important to prevent the disease.

This single dose vaccination should be administered at least 2 weeks before travel, and a further reinforcing dose will be required 6 to 12 months later. Once you have it the duration of immunity can be up to 20 years. You can also get this as  combined vaccination with hepatitis B or Typhoid.

Common side effects include a sore injection site, and occassionally a little tiredness or a high temperature. These symptoms are temporary.

Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B is an often symptomless viral infection that can cause serious long term damage to the liver, but unlike Hepatitis A this is transmitted from person to person through the exchange of bodily fluids, so basically anyone getting a tattoo or having sex is at risk.

The vaccination comes in three individual doses administered by injection. These have to be timed with the second injection given a month after the first injection and the final one 5 months later. This can be given as an accelerated dose at a minimum of two weeks after the second injection.

A booster will be required 5 years after the vaccination.

Common side effects include a sore injection site, and occasionally a little tiredness. These symptoms are temporary.

Cholera.

Cholera is a bacterial infection that is spread by contaminated food and water in areas with poor sanitation. It is rare in backpackers and is not often recommended as a vaccine, but is recommended to volunteers or those heading to rural areas where the disease is present for long periods of time, in particular, slum or refugee areas or conflict zones where access to medical facilities is limited. Outbreaks occur sporadically throughout the world.

The cholera vaccine is mixed with water and given orally as a drink. You should avoid eating, drinking or taking oral medication for an hour before and after having the vaccination. Two doses of the vaccine taken 1 to 6 weeks apart are needed to protect against cholera for two years. After this, a booster is required if you continue to be at risk.

Rabies.

Rabies is a viral infection that is present worldwide and is spread through the bite or saliva of an infected animal (especially if you have open wounds such as a cut or graze).There is no treatment or cure for rabies, and if you become symptomatic it is almost always fatal.

For many countries it is not recommended at all, and it is only a sometimes recommended vaccine for most travellers. However, the vaccine becomes strongly recommended for any traveller who falls into an at risk group, including those who are travelling for extended periods or conducting activities that may expose them to the disease in areas with rabies and will have limited access to immediate post exposure medical facilities. It is also recommended for those volunteering or working with animals.

The pre exposure vaccine is administered in three doses via an intramuscular injection. You need to start these injections at least one full month before travelling. The second dose will be given 1 week after the first, and then the final dose will be given 21 – 28 days after the first.

You may still need to be treated with post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you contract it.

The vaccine does have some side effects in some people including fever, headache, muscle pain and vomiting. Not everyone will get these symptoms and they are temporary.

Typhoid.

Typhoid is caused by bacteria called Salmonella and can contaminate food or drink in areas of poor sanitation. It can be very serious and even potentially fatal and the vaccination is recommended for all travellers to affected regions, especially the Indian subcontinent, Asia, South America and Africa, and particularly if they will be spending extended periods exposed to poor sanitation or hygiene conditions.

There are two types of vaccine, an oral and injectable variety, but the injectable variety is generally recommended for most patients. It is administered in a single dose and lasts for up to 3 years, after which time you will need a booster. It can also be administered in a combined injection with hepatitis A.

The vaccine causes some side effects in some patients, including soreness and a little swelling and redness around the injection site, a high temperature after the injection is also quite common. Less common are abdominal pain, headache, nausea and diarrhoea. These symptoms are temporary.

Japanese encephalitis.

Japanese encephalitis is a viral disease spread by mosquitoes throughout South East Asia, particularly in rural areas such as rice and paddy fields, and can be more prevalent in wetlands. Chances of contracting the disease are low, but the consequences if you do get it can be fatal. Many patients experience very mild or no symptoms at all, but because it is a viral infection that affects the human brain there is a chance it can lead to inflammation and swelling of the brain, and in very sever cases can lead to brain damage or even death.

You will need two doses of this vaccine via injection spaced 28 days apart, so you should get your first dose at least a month before travelling. The immunity period is approximately 1 year, after which you will need a booster.

Side effects include abdominal pain, dizziness, headache, nausea and diarrhoea. These symptoms are temporary.

Polio, Tetanus and Diptheria.

This is a combined vaccination used to combat the common viral and bacterial infections and diseases of polio, tetanus and diptheria. Many travellers will already have had this vaccine as a teenager as part of a routine widespread vaccination scheme.

If your vaccination was over 10 years ago, you will need a booster. This is a single dose injection and will protect you from all three diseases.

Soreness at the injection site is common after the vaccination and some people may feel nauseous or get a headache or fever, but these are short lived.

Meningitis.

There are several strains of meningococcal meningitis that can affect travellers, including A, C, W and Y, and is passed from person to person. These are all bacterial as opposed to viral and can be very dangerous, causing an inflammation of the meningeal tissue around the brain and spinal cord.

The meningitis ACWY vaccination protects you from the bacterial infection for up to 5 years, after which you will require a booster. The booster consists of one single dose by injection and should be given at least three weeks before leaving for your trip.

Common side effects include soreness of the injection site and a mild temperature. These symptoms are temporary.

Yellow fever.

This is a serious disease that is spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes that tend to feed during daylight hours. It is prevalent throughout tropical Africa and South America. Symptoms can range from flu like fever to vomiting, jaundice or bleeding which can be fatal.

The vaccination can only been given at accredited Yellow Fever Vaccination centres such as most GP practices and can take at least 10 days to become effective. The certificate is only valid 10 days after your injection too, this is not one that you can leave until the very last minute so leave enough time to get your vaccination before you fly.

You will need to have proof of this vaccine (the yellow passport) to enter most countries if you are arriving immediately after being in a country where yellow fever is present.  

The vaccine is administered as a single dose injection, and up until very recently a booster dose used to be required every ten years. Now the yellow fever ‘booster’ vaccination given ten years after the initial vaccination is not necessary.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization (SAGE) has reviewed the latest evidence and concluded that a single dose of vaccination is sufficient to confer life-long immunity against yellow fever disease.

The side effects of the yellow fever vaccine are usually mild and temporary. They involve headache, a mild fever and muscle pain around the injection site. These symptoms are temporary.

a-nurses-guide-to-travel-vaccinations

What do you think? Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or please join in the discussion on my Facebook or Twitter pages on this important topic, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons and spread the word.

If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Related Articldes

Common Backpacker Illnesses And Diseases.

The Most Common Travel Ruining Illnesses And How To Beat Them.

Why All Travellers To Bali Should Get The Rabies Vaccine.

Why Travel Vaccinations Are Important.

Travel Clinic

Have you read all the information but still need a little more specific advice? Is there a travel health issue that you are worried about and need a little reassurance on? Need some information on malaria, or which vaccinations you will need? Is there a travel health issue you would like to ask about in complete confidence?

Well I am here to help.

Apart from being an experienced backpacker with over 10 years travel experience, I am also a qualified nurse with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine and practical experience volunteering as an expedition medic.

The Bemused Backpacker Travel Clinic is an indispensable online resource for you to gain a one on one consultation with a medical professional giving you personal reassurance, expert information and qualified advice for any and all of your travel health related questions. To head into the Travel Clinic, click here.

 

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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33 comments on “The Ultimate Guide To Travel Vaccinations.
  1. I’ve never had to have travel vaccinations so far, but doubtlessly will for future travels. I didn’t know that certain jabs were free on the NHS, so thanks for flagging that up!

  2. Ina Anderson says:

    This is a great post! Vaccinations are really important but so many people ignore them because they don’t know the facts.

  3. Yvonne says:

    It is so good to have everything spelled out plainly and simply, thank you. From someone who has struggled to find the right information it is really appreciated. And it is also really good to have qualified advice but from someone who has also travelled too. I went to my GP to ask about these and as much as I know what he said will factually right it felt like he was just giving me answers out of a textbook with no real life experience.

  4. Hannah says:

    Such a helpful post. Thank you.

  5. Another essential article for travelers! Keep up the good work.

  6. Your site is a genuine resource for travellers, love it.

  7. Allana says:

    This is amazing, I’m starting my gap year in May and have really been confused about wether to get vaccinations or not. I went to my GP to discuss it but to be honest he wasn’t much help. I know I want to get all the major ones, but am unsure about others like rabies because some advice says get it and others say it isn’t needed. How do I know if I’m in an ‘at risk group’?

    • I’m happy to discuss this with you in depth if you make an appointment at my online clinic Allana, but in very general terms at risk groups are those who will be spending extended time in rural areas, travelling in areas without suitable medical facilities close at hand, anyone volunteering with animals or travelling to certain countries, Bali for example is a country I would strongly advise people to get the rabies vaccine for.

  8. Ben Carson says:

    This may sound stupid but I’m still a little confused about yellow fever, as in do you need the yellow book prove you have had it everywhere or just countries where it is a problem?

    • It’s not stupid at all Ben, many people get confused about this. Basically the vaccination is recommended for your health for any country where yellow fever is present. The yellow book is needed by most countries to prove that you are vaccinated before they will allow you in IF you are travelling from a country where yellow fever is present. If you are travelling from a country where it is not, you’re fine. Does that make sense?

  9. Joanne says:

    Oh my god I have been looking all over the internet for some real information like this. Surprisingly even the NHSs site isnt great! Thank you. Now I just need to figure out exactly where I will be going.

  10. Mark says:

    Can I just ask (I know this sounds stupid) but is it okay to risk not getting vaccinated if you are only passing through a particular country?

    • Hi Mark, it’s not stupid at all. In general terms just passing through does decrease risk, but it would depend on the specific vaccination and specific destination as well as other criteria. Some vaccinations are always strongly recommended for any travel anywhere for example, whilst others you could probably say that the risk is low so getting the vaccination isn’t completely necessary. This is why a consultation with a professional is always a good idea so you can talk through the options specific to you. As a health professional though I will always personally err on the side of caution and just get them.

  11. Wai Xianyi says:

    Should I get rabies vaccination?

    • Well that totally depends on your past medical history, where you are going and what you are doing there Wai? As wel as a number of other factors too. Feel free to make an appointment in my travel clinic if you want to talk about it one to one. 🙂

  12. Gupta says:

    Very good post. Very useful. I am glad to know these things for when I will need to travel

  13. Joanne Carter says:

    This is SUCH a useful resource, thank you

  14. Ella says:

    Amazing! I’m so glad I found your site. I was really confused and a litle worried on wether to get the Rabies vaccination or not, as I am heading to Indonesia and won’t be doing any volunteering with animals or anything like that, what do you think?

    • Well that depends on a few other factors too. In very general terms you may be fine in the majority of Indonesia, and although I would still recommend it the risk is relatively low and you can weigh up the risk/benefit for yourself. If you are heading to Bali at any point though my recommendation to get the vaccine gets a lot stronger. I’m happy to discuss this in more detail if you want to book an appointment at my online travel clinic.

  15. Michelle says:

    I love this! Such useful information. I love reading a lot of travel blogs and enjoy them, but honestly so few have real information like this.

  16. Hi! I’ve already had Rabies and Hep B as well as the ones the NHS cover before I leave for my SE Asia trip next month. I cannot make my mind up about Jap. Encephalitis! I’ll be travelling to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. We begin in July and will be travelling for around 6/7 months. Based on this would you recommend getting the Jap. E. vaccine? My travel nurse basically just said it’s up to me which wasn’t much help. Was it a vaccine that you got yourself?

    • I do have the vaccine myself yes, because I have worked in varied locations as a nurse and medic and some of the expeditions and trips I have been on have basically increased the risk factor for me (such as extended times in rural areas etc). Plus I always believe that if you can protect yourself why not? I am assuming that you are going to mostly well trodden paths in those countries (not a bad thing) and doing general travel (ie not volunteering?) The risk of contracting the disease in that case is very very low, which is why the vaccine is not routinely recommended. Most travellers who go to SEAsia and don’t get the vaccine come back safe and sound. Odds are you will too. With that said, if you can afford it before you go then there’s no harm in extra protection. You have to weigh up the risk you are prepared to take yourself based on that. I hope that helps, if you want a more in depth discussion please don’t hesitate to make an appointment with my online travel clinic. 🙂

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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