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Your Travel Vaccine Checklist, Continent by Continent

Which Travel Vaccines Will I Need? continued...

"That's why we encourage people to see a travel health specialist," says Kozarsky. "Not only is your itinerary important, your medical history is important, too."  

Of course, it's a good idea to let your doctor know that you'll be traveling, especially if you have a chronic health condition. However, your doctor isn't likely to have all the vaccines you might need. "It doesn't pay for them to hold a vaccine like typhoid that they would only use once a year," says Kozarsky.  

Many travel immunizations need to be given in a series of shots given over a period of days or weeks. Plus, vaccines take time to work. So travel health experts recommend giving yourself 4 to 6 weeks to meet with a travel health provider about how to plan for your travel and to get any needed travel vaccinations.  

To find a travel clinic near you, you can go to the travel clinic locator on the Traveler's Health section of the CDC web site. When you meet with a travel specialist, he or she can provide you with recommendations based on the following:

Your current health
If you are taking medications for a condition like diabetes, there may be certain drug interactions you need to be aware of. For example, some drugs may reduce the effectiveness of travel vaccinations.   

Immunization history
Knowing what past immunizations you have had and when will help the doctor know what routine vaccines you may need to have updated.  

Itinerary
Because the risk for certain diseases can vary greatly from one city or town to another even within one country, it's important to know as much about your itinerary as possible. This is true whether you are traveling with a guided tour or planning your own visit. When you review your itinerary, be sure to consider:  

  • Where you will be traveling, including whether you will be in urban or rural areas
  • How long you will visit
  • What season you will visit
  • Lodging conditions (air conditioning, open-air tents, or screened-in house or room)
  • Mode of travel
  • Food
  • Planned activities  

Ultimately, it's up to you to decide whether or not to see a doctor about recommended vaccinations. Some people may not be able to receive certain vaccines due to allergy to a vaccine component or medical condition. Remember that, in general, you are much more at risk from the diseases that they protect you against than the vaccines.

What Steps Should I Take to Protect Myself While Traveling?

"I think basic hygiene and common sense is very helpful," says Kozarsky. "Washing hands before you eat, and not putting your fingers to your face or in your mouth, that kind of thing. There's so much that we pick up on our fingers that can cause diarrheal disease or food-borne illness. So basic sanitation or hand washing is extremely helpful." Kozarsky recommends carrying around one of the alcohol-based hand gels. She also emphasizes understanding which foods are safe to eat and making sure that you're drinking water that is bottled or boiled to get rid of organisms, or other bottled, carbonated drinks.  

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