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Vaccinations for holiday

The British are great holidaymakers, and wherever you go in the world now it won’t be unusual to meet another person from this country. The over 50s and 60s are the group that travel the most, according to recent statistics. Thanks to better health and cheaper travel, we can explore the world in a way that would astonish our parents and earlier generations.

But while internet bookings, fast and more reliable aircraft and increasing options are all making travel easier and easier, there are also downsides.

These include the risks of illness, infections and disease. No one wants to get sick when they are away, but increased travel can also mean increased health risks as we venture into new areas.

There are lots of ways to check what vaccinations you need for your trip and it is usually quite easy to find out on line so you have some idea before you visit your doctor or clinic.

Boots and many of the top pharmacies offer a travel advice and inoculation service, and both Boots and the NHS have a useful website that gives lots of information:

The Fit for Travel site also has a useful news section giving the latest changes in advice…for instance while in China and Vietnam the risk of malaria has been downgraded, in Cambodia there is a significant risk.

The first thing to do is to check your basic immunizations are up to date, including measles, mumps and rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and polio…the vaccinations you probably had as a child. Some may still be current but it is well worth checking with your doctor as some (see below) such as typhoid only last for three years. 

The same applies to other vaccinations you may have had for previous trips, as they don’t all last a lifetime...

  • Chicken Pox - 10 years (possibly life)
  • Cholera (oral vaccine) - 2 years
  • Diphtheria - 10 years
  • Flu vaccine (Fluvax) - 1 year
  • Hepatitis A (Vaqta / Havrix/Twinrix) - 20 years (possibly longer)
  • Hepatitis B (HBVax II/Engerix B/Twinrix) - life
  • Japanese B Encephalitis - 3 years
  • Measles, Mumps, Rubella - 15 years (possibly life)
  • Meningitis (Menomune/Mencevax) - 1-3 years
  • Pneumonia (Pneumovax) - 5 years (possibly life)
  • Polio (Sabin) - 10 years (possibly life)
  • Polio (IPV) - 10 years (possibly life)
  • Rabies (pre exposure) - 10 years (possibly life)
  • Tetanus - 10 years
  • Typhoid - 3 years
  • Yellow Fever - 10 years

Then you need to check out any other specific vaccinations or preparations you need for the specific areas you are visiting.  The main diseases and problems that most people may face are:

Cholera spread  through consumption of contaminated water and food. More common during floods and after natural disasters, in areas with very poor sanitation and lack of clean drinking water. It would be unusual for travellers to contract cholera if they take basic precautions with food and water and maintain a good standard of hygiene.

Diphtheria spread  person to person through respiratory droplets. Risk is higher if mixing with locals in poor, overcrowded living conditions.

Hepatitis A spread  through consuming contaminated food and water or person to person through the faecal-oral route. Risk is higher where personal hygiene and sanitation are poor.

Hepatitis B spread  through infected blood and blood products, contaminated needles and medical instruments and sexual intercourse. Risk is higher for those at occupational risk, long stays or frequent travel, children (exposed through cuts and scratches) and individuals who may need, or request, surgical procedures abroad.

Japanese Encephalitis spread  through the bite of an infected mosquito. This mosquito breeds in rice paddies and mainly bites between dusk and dawn. Risk is higher for long stay travellers to rural areas, particularly if unable to avoid mosquito bites.

Rabies spread  through the saliva of an infected animal, usually through a bite, scratch or lick on broken skin. Particularly dogs and related species, but also bats. Risk is higher for those going to remote areas (who may not be able to promptly access appropriate treatment in the event of a bite), long stays, those at higher risk of contact with animals and bats, and children. Even when pre-exposure vaccine has been received, urgent medical advice should be sought after any animal or bat bite.

Tetanus spread  through contamination of cuts, burns and wounds with tetanus spores. Spores are found in soil worldwide. A total of 5 doses of tetanus vaccine are recommended for life in the UK. Boosters are usually recommended in a country or situation where the correct treatment of an injury may not be readily available.

Typhoid spread  mainly through consumption of contaminated food and drink. Risk is higher where access to adequate sanitation and safe water is limited.

Yellow Fever: spread  by the bite of an infected, day-biting mosquito. The disease is mainly found in rural areas but outbreaks in urban areas do occur. Vaccination is usually recommended for those who travel into risk areas.

Malaria:  Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease transmitted by mosquitoes. You cannot be vaccinated against malaria so the alternative is to take precautions. The main one is to avoid mosquito bites where possible by covering up with clothing such as long sleeves and long trousers, especially after sunset, using insect repellents on exposed skin and, when necessary, sleeping under a mosquito net. You can now buy insect repellant clothing which can help.Check with your doctor or nurse about suitable antimalarial tablets. If you have been travelling in a malarious area and develop a fever seek medical attention promptly. Remember malaria can develop even up to one year after exposure.

Dengue Fever: a viral illness that is transmitted to humans by mosquito bites. The mosquito that spreads dengue bites during the day and is more common in urban areas. Symptoms include fever, headache, severe joint, bone and muscular pain - hence its other name 'breakbone fever'. There is no vaccine and prevention is through avoidance of mosquito bites as above with malaria.
Schistosomiasis: A parasitic infection (also known as bilharzia) that is transmitted to humans through contact with fresh water. The parasite enters humans through the skin and prevention is dependent on avoidance of swimming, bathing or paddling in fresh water lakes and streams.  Checking water in infected areas before entering is important.

Start your preparations early as some vaccinations need to be given well before you leave to ensure maximum protection. Also be aware that your doctor of the clinic you attend will charge for many of the inoculations and this can add quite a lot to your holiday costs.

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