When we first start making travel plans we often put a great deal of thought into where exactly we want to go. We’ll spend hours researching destinations and looking for the best deals on airfare, accommodations, food, and activities once we get there. Unfortunately, we don’t always put the same amount of effort into learning about the health issues we might face while traveling. These challenges could potentially have a major impact on how much we enjoy our trip, not to mention our long-term health after we return home. Generally speaking, the health risks tend to be quite low with domestic travel. But venture abroad and it becomes an entirely different story. Many international destinations can expose travelers to a wide variety of viruses and parasites, some of which can be extremely dangerous or even life threatening. That’s why it is important to understand exactly what you’re dealing with before you go and to prepare yourself as best you can. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) can provide up-to-date information regarding health concerns for the destinations that you plan to visit. The two organizations not only list viruses that have historically existed in countries around the globe, but they also track current outbreaks—such as Ebola or Zika—that could be of concern as well. Beyond that, however, the CDC and WHO are both great resources for travelers because they can tell you exactly which vaccinations and medications you’ll need when visiting a new country. They’ll also provide current travel alerts about which regions should be avoided altogether. Before setting out on a trip, be sure to consult either one of these websites—or better yet talk to your doctor about which vaccinations are necessary for your planned destination. Getting immunized before you go will not only allow you to stay safe and healthy while on the road, but it will also prevent the spread of dangerous diseases to other regions. Most doctors recommend that travelers be immunized against measles, mumps, tetanus, polio, diphtheria, rubella, and whooping cough no matter where they are going. For many of us, those are all vaccinations that we got as children, which means we generally are immunized against those threats. Some, like tetanus for example, require an occasional booster from time to time, however. Of more concern for travelers are the viruses that they don’t encounter regularly, so they haven’t built up any sort of immunity to or been vaccinated against them. These include yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, and hepatitis. Each of these diseases can be extremely dangerous, but most of them can be prevented through the use of vaccines or medications. Travel vaccinations can be expensive, and since they are nonessential and voluntary, they are often not covered by insurance. Because of this, many people choose not to spend their time or money getting the shots and medications that they need to keep them safe while on the road. Staying within your travel budget is important, of course, but not at the expense of your health or the health of others. If you get sick, you could end up spreading a virus to someone else, which then makes the cost of getting immunized seem inconsequential. It is also important to note that some countries will not allow visitors to enter without showing proof that they have actually gotten immunized against certain diseases. When you get your travel shots you should be given a yellow immunization card that provides a record of the date and type of vaccinations that you’ve received. This is normally kept with your passport and shown to immigration control officers when entering a foreign country. Failure to show the proper records could mean that you won’t be allowed in and will be sent home on the next available flight out. That would be a sad way to end a trip that had taken so long to plan. If it’s not abundantly clear by now, travel vaccinations are something we all need to take seriously. While they do add expense to the cost of a trip, they are also essential for staying healthy and helping to prevent the spread of dangerous viruses to other parts of the world. If you’re planning a trip to an exotic locale in the near future, be sure take some time to find out what health threats you could face there and get the proper medications and immunizations 4-6 weeks in advance. That way your body has time to adapt to the vaccine and you’ll be fully prepared by the time you set out.
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