What travel vaccinations do you need?
We are lucky in Australia to have an extremely low occurrence of some of the world’s most deadly communicable diseases. This is mostly due to our comprehensive vaccination programs. The fact that we don’t come across diseases like polio and diphtheria can make us a bit blasť about them, but they are still very active in some countries and are potentially life threatening.
Even if you have been vaccinated as a child, you may need a booster before you travel. Young children and infants, pregnant women and people with pre-existing medical conditions all have an increased risk to their health when travelling overseas.
There are some countries that require proof of vaccination against particular diseases before you enter. If you cannot prove that you have been vaccinated, you may be refused entry or required to have the vaccination at the border.
Check the Smart Traveller or enquire with the Australian embassy or consulate of your destination about the requirements for vaccinations. It’s also important to discuss your destinations and vaccination requirements with a travel health specialist.
Most importantly, make sure you have adequate travel insurance that covers you for illness contracted while travelling.
The vaccinations required to protect you on your journey will vary, depending on your personal health and holiday plans. To determine which vaccinations you should have before you travel, your doctor will consider your age, where you were born, previous vaccinations, your general health, (including past and present conditions), where you are going and how long you will be travelling for.
As part of determining your exposure to risk, your travel health professional may also ask you about all the details of your itinerary, including date of departure (and time period available for vaccinations), specific localities and routes, rural versus urban stays, duration of stay, likely access to healthcare and other services, and the probability of deviation from your planned itinerary.
Some vaccinations can be general, or are linked to a particular destination or activity. The Travel Doctor website has a simple online form that will give you some guidance. You just fill in your country of residence, destination and travel dates and you will be provided with background information on the country and a health advisory report including advice about travel vaccinations. This is all general information and does not replace specific advice for you. It’s also important to note that there is not a definitive list of vaccines for travelling to a particular country
Most Australians are protected from polio, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella thanks to the childhood vaccination program. However, protection from these early vaccinations does decrease over time, and you may require a booster. All travellers should ensure they are up to date with standard vaccination recommendations.
If your destination country recommends you drink only bottled water, you should consider hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations. And if you travel a lot, for long periods, you might need to add hepatitis B to your travel vaccination list. Be aware that hepatitis B requires more than one dose, so you’ll need to plan your shots in advance.
Some examples of vaccinations that are specific to your destination, activities and likely risk of exposure to disease include: cholera, meningococcal disease, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, tick-borne encephalitis, tuberculosis, typhoid and yellow fever.
If you are at risk of developing complications from influenza, make sure you get the seasonal vaccine to protect you.
The Australian Immunisation Handbook provides a comprehensive list of routinely recommended vaccines (not just for travel) and more specific vaccines based on travel itinerary or activities.
Your regular doctor will be able to advise you about general health concerns before you travel –and they are the best placed to discuss your personal health. They will also be able to talk to you about recommended vaccinations. There are also a number of clinics around Australia which specialise in travel medicine, which you may wish to utilise for specific advice.
As with almost all medications, vaccines can have side effects, however, these are generally minor and only last a few days. Common side effects are flu-like symptoms and may include: fever, pain and tenderness at the site of the injection, headaches, nausea, tiredness, and muscle or joint pain. In some rare instances – for example with the yellow fever vaccine – side effects can be more serious. You doctor will take all risk factors into consideration when recommending vaccinations.
There are a number of infectious diseases that can be picked up while travelling, which cannot be prevented by a vaccination. These include bugs transmitted by food, water or poor hygiene – like ‘gastro’, traveller’s diarrhoea, giardiasis and amoebic dysentery – or by insects, like malaria and dengue fever. These illnesses can be life threatening. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the likelihood of encountering these diseases on your travels, and what medications or measures you can take to help prevent them.
It’s important to remember that sudden and dramatic changes in environmental conditions can also impact your health. The effects of abrupt fluctuations in temperature, humidity and altitude should not be underestimated. Other environmental factors such as different vegetation, animals and insects can trigger allergic reactions and sensitivities.
Most of the negative impacts of a new environment can be minimised by taking simple precautions such as staying hydrated, drinking bottled or boiled water, eating cooked food, wearing insect repellent, using adequate sun protection, and avoiding activities in creeks, streams and rivers.
It’s important to research the potential risks in your chosen destination and discuss with your travel health professional the best protection and risk minimisation strategies for you.