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Travel Immunizations

International travel is common today, for both business and pleasure. But diseases that are rare in this country are still prevalent elsewhere. Even domestic travel may put you at risk if you go to an area with a high rate of certain infectious disease such as hepatitis A. Travel immunizations and vaccines can ensure better health on your trip and for years afterward.

Check with your health care provider well in advance of any extended travel plans to see if any special immunizations are recommended. If vaccines are required, they can take as many as four to six weeks to take effect, and some may require more than one shot.

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Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, at no cost to you. Learn more.

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The CDC divides vaccines for travel into three categories:

Routine Immunizations and Vaccines. These are the vaccines that the CDC and The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (AICP) recommend that all adults and children receive to protect them from infectious diseases here at home. You can check the schedule for yourself and your family by looking at the most recently updated schedules.

Children 0-6

Ages 7 through 18 

Adults

Recommended Immunizations and Vaccines. These are vaccines that the CDC recommends to protect you from diseases that could be present in other countries and to prevent the spread of infectious disease from one country to another. The recommended immunizations and vaccines vary based on the country, your travel plans once in that country, and your age and overall health. You can find a list of destinations and the CDC's recommended immunizations here.

Required Immunizations and Vaccines. International Health Regulations currently require only two vaccines for travel to specific parts of the world. They are:

  • Yellow fever -- For travel to certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South America
  • Meningococcal vaccination -- Required by the government of Saudi Arabia for annual travel during the period of the Hajj

Other Immunization and Vaccine Concerns

The CDC generally recognizes that if you are traveling to most industrialized nations, such as Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, your risk of exposure to infectious disease is no greater than it is here in the U.S. However, for those with certain health conditions, such as individuals with compromised immune systems, the risk can be greater no matter where you travel. If you know that you have an immuno-deficient condition, including HIV/AIDS, please discuss your travel plans with your health care provider. 

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also have specific concerns and different recommendations when it comes to international travel and immunizations. Pregnant women or breastfeeding moms should check with their own doctor four to six weeks prior to traveling.

And finally, what you do when you travel can increase your risk. The following activities can increase exposure to disease and local infectious organisms.

  • Visiting rural areas, zoos, farms, and other animal habitats
  • Hiking and backpacking
  • Staying with local people
  • Extended length of stay

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on July 25, 2012

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