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Travel Vaccines for North America

By Dr Liji Thomas, MD

Traveling is fun, but being exposed to communicable diseases is not so good. In addition to your personal risk of falling sick and missing out on enjoyable travel, you may bring back the infection to unvaccinated people in your own country and your own family.

Ways to ensure safe travel include:

  • Finding safe sources of food and water to avoid food poisoning
  • Avoiding exposure to animals and bites
  • Getting the right vaccinations: Visit your healthcare provider at least 4-6 weeks before your planned departure, to allow for sufficient time for the vaccines to be administered.

Vaccines for all travelers

Vaccines that are expected to be taken by all travelers include:

The MMR vaccine

The MMR vaccine protects travelers against catching mumps, measles, and rubella infections. If all travelers are vaccinated appropriately, this would prevent a huge proportion of infections from being brought back into the host country to affect other unvaccinated people.

Proper precautions include:

  • Vaccinating all babies above 6 months against measles and MMR, if possible, before they leave
  • Two doses of MMR should have been taken babies by 12 months or older
  • Adults and adolescents should be tested for antibodies to measles; if not protected, they should take 2 doses of the vaccine at least 4 weeks apart

Other childhood vaccines

These are expected to have been routinely taken in childhood, and include:

  • The DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine
  • The varicella vaccine against chickenpox
  • The polio vaccine
  • The yearly influenza vaccine

Other vaccines useful for travelers in North America

Tourists and travelers in the North American region may also be advised to have:

Hepatitis A

To protect against jaundice transmitted through contaminated food or water, and taken as 2 doses 6 months apart. The disease may break out sporadically in any region of the world, even though the risk is low in many places in North America.

The following vaccines are recommended for some groups:

Hepatitis B

The hep B vaccine is recommended in the following cases:

  • You will be participating in high-risk activities. This is mandatory if you may have sexual or blood-borne contact with any unknown person, including body tattoos and medical procedures. Healthcare workers who will be exposed to blood or serum or body fluids should also be immunized.
  • Older people
  • People who have chronic illnesses

Three doses are required, at 0, 1, and 6 months from the date of the first vaccination. An accelerated schedule is also possible in some cases. It is more than 90% effective. Most children in developed countries receive this vaccine in infancy.

Rabies

Rabies is not a major threat here, and the vaccine is recommended only if your work or sport may bring you in contact with bats and other mammals, which carry the virus in this region:

  • Adventure travelers (hikers, trekkers, cavers, explorers, campers, or bikers)
  • Those who work among bats (vets, animal researchers, forestry, or wildlife workers)

Three doses are required for pre-exposure prophylaxis, at 0, 7, and 21 (or 28) days from the first dose.

Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 26, 2016

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