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Vaccinations you need before you travel abroad

If you are planning a trip to another country, there is one thing you need to do as soon as you finalize the itinerary: Consult your physician to ensure you have all necessary immunizations before you go.

Why you need vaccines

A vaccine stimulates the production of antibodies and provides immunity against one or more diseases. “Vaccines are preventive health,” says Jackie Williamson, M.D., a primary care physician at Piedmont.

“The reason that’s possible is because of what we call the herd effect. The more people that are vaccinated, the less likely those who aren’t vaccinated are going to get sick.” In foreign countries with low immunization rates, there is no herd effect. This means the potential for getting sick from certain diseases is significantly greater.

Before you leave

It’s important to give your doctor time to map out an immunization schedule so you can have the appropriate vaccinations at the right time. “Some live vaccines can’t be given at the same time, so you may need 28 days between vaccines,” says Dr. Williamson. “You don’t want to wait until the last minute.” However, if you happen to plan a last-minute getaway, it is still crucial see your physician. “Some immunity is better than no immunity,” she explains.

What to tell your physician

Be sure to tell your physician where you will be traveling and under what conditions. “If you’re going for a rescue mission from a mudslide, your needs are going to be very different than if you’re going as a tourist,” she says. Travelers going on a cruise or to a developed country may only need hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines as well as a tetanus booster. If you’re traveling to a Third World country, you will likely need typhoid, polio and MMR [measles, mumps and rubella] vaccines.

While you’re traveling

When traveling, take measures to prevent flea, tick and mosquito bites. “They are the most common transmitters of serious diseases, like malaria and encephalitis” she says. Hand washing and being cautious about what you drink is also important.

“Third World water is usually not what we would consider potable safe to drink in the United States,” she says. “Making certain that you use bottled water or filtered water that you filter yourself will help decrease your risk of waterborne illness, like traveler’s diarrhea and parasites.”

When you return home

Pay attention to your body in the weeks after you return home from a trip. See your doctor if you aren’t feeling well and/or experience the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhea, especially bloody diarrhea

  • A decrease in appetite

  • Abdominal distention

These symptoms may indicate you have contracted a parasite that has manifested into a full-blown infection requiring treatment.

“Where you’re traveling is the most important thing,” says Dr. Williams. “According to the common diseases and travel alerts for that area, we’ll make a determination for the medications you might need and what preventive measures you would need to prevent illness.”

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