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Travel Vaccinations You Should Know

Do you dream of backpacking in far off lands? Then you need to make sure to not underestimate the dangers of contracting a tropical disease on your travels. This doesn’t mean you need to be terrified of encountering a deadly virus wherever you go. Still, it’s important to inform yourself about different diseases and their corresponding travel vaccinations.

If you get yourself vaccinated against certain pathogens before starting your journey, your risk of something happening to you in this respect is almost zero. So, to prepare you, we have put together information about the best travel vaccinations for you to get depending on where you want to go!

Hepatitis A

An infection with hepatitis A usually occurs via a smear infection. It is often caused by dirty drinking water or spoiled food. The main symptom is an inflammation of the liver (hepatitis is the medical term for this).

Hepatitis A is present in many countries worldwide, and there have even been some outbreaks in Europe in recent years. Therefore, we really recommend getting a hepatitis A vaccine not just for traveling but for your day-to-day needs.

To be fully protected, you’ll need two vaccinations. The exact timing of the second dose depends on which manufacturer made the vaccine you receive. As such, it will take between 6 and 18 months. However, you can still be relatively sure that you have several years of protection about two weeks after your first dose. After receiving both doses, you’ll have about 100% immunity that will last at least ten years.

If you forgot to get two doses before heading off on your trip, don’t worry. Experience shows that vaccinating yourself shortly before starting your journey is also effective to some degree. This is because the incubation period of hepatitis A lasts between 15 and 50 days. As the vaccination already shows signs of protection after just two weeks, it might be able to pre-empt an infection.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is one of the most common infectious diseases in the world. Similarly, this disease also causes liver complications. As Hepatitis B is highly infectious, we recommend getting a vaccination against it, especially for trips to Africa and East Asia (Mongolia, China, and so on). If you’re planning to have close contact with locals in these countries during your trip, vaccination becomes even more advisable.

Normally, you receive the hepatitis B shot as a child and the protection lasts a lifetime. So, booster vaccinations are not needed. However, you can get a combined hepatitis A/B shot. This is three doses in total. After the first shot, the second takes place one month later. Then you will receive your third dose around six months after the second.

Because the timing can cover a multi-month period, we recommend planning out your vaccine appointments well before setting off on your trip. Keep in mind that noticeable protection only starts after the second dose of the combination vaccine. Additionally, there is the possibility of rapid immunization. This means that the second vaccination takes place seven days after the first and the third 21 days after that. Though, this means you will need a fourth after twelve months. In either case, both vaccinations offer protection for about ten years.

Yellow Fever

If you’re going to Africa or Latin America, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated against yellow fever. The yellow fever virus is contracted via mosquito bites. An infection goes through two phases. Most of the time, it only shows up as mild flu-like symptoms, but in individual cases there is the threat of jaundice or a blood disorder.

Luckily, the vaccine against yellow fever is proven to be highly effective. You should get vaccinated at least ten days before departing on your journey, since the protective effect takes around that long to kick in. The protection provided by the vaccination lasts for at least ten years and can even last a lifetime for many people.

Japanese Encephalitis

The Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) vaccine only makes sense if you’re travelling to South, Southeast, or East Asia since the virus has never been found outside these regions.

This infection is transmitted by mosquitoes and only occurs during the monsoon season, or shortly after. Generally, the monsoon season in Southeast Asia lasts from May to October. Though, in South Asia, rainfall occurs mainly between June and September.

In most cases, JEV infections do not result in any symptoms. Either way, we recommend a vaccination if you’re going to be travelling in the aforementioned regions for longer than four weeks or if you stay there regularly. This vaccine also requires two doses. The second dose is administered after 28 days. A booster vaccine in the next twelve to 24 months is also a good idea.

Rabies

Without effective treatment, infection with the rabies virus is 100% deadly. The risk of infection with rabies is unfortunately present in most tropical countries. That is why we think this is one of the most useful travel vaccinations to have. 

There are two types of rabies: ground-dwelling mammals carry the first type, and bats carry the second. Though, the most common vectors are dogs, cats, and monkeys in Asia. We, therefore, highly recommend getting vaccinated against rabies before travelling. This especially the case if you plan to stay for longer than four weeks or travel there regularly. Otherwise, simply keeping your distance from mammals should be enough to prevent infection.

In total, there are three doses needed for a full vaccination against rabies. You’ll get the second dose a week after the first vaccination, and the third dose is received three to four weeks after the second. While it is a highly effective vaccine, you should get a booster shot every five years.

Meningococcus

An infection with meningococcus is very dangerous and can lead to severe, if not fatal, illnesses. These include meningitis and sepsis, or when the body can no longer contain an infection locally. Luckily, risk of infection is relatively low. Nevertheless, there is the so-called “meningitis belt”, which extends over large parts of Central Africa. The countries in the meningitis belt have a much higher risk of infection, which is why we recommend this as one of the top travel vaccinations if you’re going to this region.

Infection occurs via a droplet infection and thus can be spread through coughing and sneezing. As you are likely to interact with the local population when travelling as a backpacker, especially in shared accommodation or public transport, we strongly recommend a meningococcal vaccination. The same goes for longer stays in these risk areas. In Libya and Gambia, proof of vaccination is even a requirement for entry into the country. In addition, you should know that the risk of infection is significantly higher during the dry season (from November to April).

A meningococcal vaccination is administered in two doses that are given six months apart. The effectiveness of the vaccine is also very high. You should have the vaccination about one month before you travel, and it’s best to repeat your vaccination regularly. Generally, it will keep you protected for at least five years.

Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever is an infection caused by bacteria. One of the most common symptoms is a high fever, and the infection can become dangerous if not treated properly. We recommend the typhoid fever vaccine for anyone headed to Central America, South America, Africa and South and Central Asia in particular.

Infections are usually caused by poor hygiene conditions. For backpackers, it’s common to stay in simple accommodations where such conditions might be present. So, it’s a pretty good idea to get vaccinated against typhoid fever.

Unlike the other vaccines we mentioned, the typhoid fever vaccine is taken orally. This means that you need to take three capsules to build up your immunity: the first on day one, the second on day three and the third on day five. You can also vaccinate just one week before you travel. Make sure you don’t eat or drink before taking your oral vaccination, and don’t eat for at least an hour afterwards. It’s also worth mentioning that antibiotics can impair the effect of the typhoid vaccine.

The efficacy (between 50 and 70%) is only moderate in comparison to other vaccines. Plus, you should have a booster vaccine again after two or three years.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Since March 2020, the entire world has been subjected to a pandemic caused by the respiratory disease COVID-19. Although many infections do not result in any major symptoms, there are severe cases.

By now, most countries have the pandemic well under control. First and foremost, this is due to effective vaccines. The vaccines against Corona usually have two doses that are given within six weeks of each other. Full vaccine protection is achieved around two weeks after your second vaccination. From this point on, your vaccination will also be fully recognized by official bodies.

The Corona vaccine currently makes travelling to other countries much easier. Countries outside Europe often explicitly require valid proof of vaccination. As such, we’ve added the Corona vaccination to our list of travel vaccinations, as it is really a great help in entering many countries. It is also recommended to get the booster shot for Covid-19, as this is often also required by many countries.

Conclusion

While vaccines often have cold-like side effects, it is always advisable to have one. Compared to the risk and consequences of an infection from the diseases they protect against, it’s well worth it. Appropriately, the probability of getting infected and experiencing symptoms is always higher than the risks associated with vaccination.

As a final note, we want to emphasize that caution and awareness of tropical diseases is not the same as being afraid and panicking. You don’t have to give up long-distance travel out of fear. As we’ve mentioned, simply informing yourself about appropriate travel vaccinations before your trip, and staying vigilant at your destination, will mean you minimize your risk considerably. With that, we wish you happy and safe travels!

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