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 in 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 were 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 by babies 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 the Caribbean
Tourists and travelers in the Caribbean may also be advised to have:
To protect against jaundice transmitted through contaminated food or water, and taken as 2 doses 6 months apart.
This is to protect against the transmission of typhoid germs through food or water, either as oral vaccine or in the injectable form. Its efficacy ranges from only 50-80%, so that you should take care not to expose yourself to unhealthy or contaminated food.
It 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 are sick with 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 if you may be in contact with bats, which carry the virus in the Caribbean:
- 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.
This vaccine is required for your safety in many Caribbean countries. Many Caribbean governments ask for proof of this vaccination if you come from a country with exposure to yellow fever.
Cholera vaccine may be recommended for people who are likely to work in humanitarian aid centers or those who may be traveling or staying in remote areas. It is given as two doses one to six weeks apart, but children require a third dose after the same interval.
Traveling to the affected area should be planned at least a week after the last dose. Revaccination may be required, or at least a booster, if a vaccinated individual plans to visit an affected or high-risk area.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
Last Updated: Jul 26, 2016