Travel vaccines and medications
What is a travel vaccination or immunization?
Travelling to an international location may expose you to infectious risks not present in our everyday environment. Luckily, travel vaccinations (or immunizations) are a prevention technique used to reduce the risk of getting sick while travelling abroad. Some vaccines are given as shots and others as liquids, drops or capsules to be swallowed. Your body responds to vaccines by producing antibodies to protect you if and when you are exposed to a disease while travelling.
Vaccines related to travel
Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG)
BCG is a vaccine used to prevent tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is transmitted by airborne germs; usually requiring prolonged exposure for infection to occur. BCG is not routinely used in Canada for a number of reasons. Tuberculosis is not widespread so the chance of exposure is small. There can also be serious side effects. When travelling, however, the risk of tuberculosis exposure may increase. Therefore, the BCG vaccination may be considered for travellers planning extended stays (>1 year) in areas of high tuberculosis.
Cholera and Travellers' diarrhea
Diarrhea is the most common medical problem effecting travelers from developed to developing countries. Symptoms of Travellers’ diarrhea can include abnormally frequent, loose bowel movements, abdominal cramps, nausea, bloating, and fever. Cholera is a potentially more dangerous diarrhea illness. Symptoms can include very severe watery diarrhea. Both travellers’ diarrhea and cholera can occur by consuming contaminated food or water. The oral vaccination, DUKORAL, reduces your risk of becoming ill.
The Hepatitis A virus is transmitted when we eat or drink something that is contaminated with the virus. Raw or undercooked food, food handled by those who have not washed their hands, and water contaminated by human waste are often sources of the virus. Hepatitis A is the most common vaccine-preventable disease in travellers. Protection against hepatitis A is highly recommended for all travellers travelling to developing or endemic countries, particularly if visiting rural areas or places with inadequate sanitation facilities.
The Hepatitis B virus is responsible for the most prevalent form of hepatitis in the world. The virus can be spread through sexual contact, through the exchange of blood or bodily fluids, or through objects contaminated by bodily fluids. Regardless of the destination, all people who may engage in practices that places them at risk for infection during travel should receive the vaccination.
Japanese encephalitis is a viral disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Epidemics of the disease occur in the late summer and early fall in temperate areas and sporadically throughout the year in tropical areas of Asia. Vaccination against the disease should generally be considered for travellers one year of age and older who will be spending a month or more in high prevalence areas during the transmission season, especially if travel will include rural areas.
While there is currently no approved vaccine against malaria, protection is available for both adults and children.
- Take precautions to prevent mosquito bites
- Activities. When possible, avoid places and times when mosquitoes are most active. Try to avoid damp, wooded areas where mosquitoes live and breed, and stay indoors or take extra precautions during dusk and dawn.
- Clothing. Wear full-coverage clothing that protects against mosquito bites, such as long-sleeve shirts and full-length pants. Wear shoes and socks to protect your ankles and feet. Try to wear light-colored clothing as dark colors attract mosquitoes.
- Netting. Sleep in screened areas or under bed nets. Tuck mosquito netting under your mattress when sleeping. Mosquito netting should also be used over children in strollers. For the best protection, mosquito netting should have mesh large enough for air circulation, but small enough to keep out mosquitoes.
- Insect repellant. Apply an insect repellent containing up to 35% DEET to skin, clothing and bed nets.
- Take malaria chemoprophylaxis (antimalarial medication)
Meningitis is an infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is most common among children and people whose bodies have trouble fighting off infections. Meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) is the preferred vaccine for people 55 years of age and younger and prevents four types of meningococcal disease.
Rabies is an infection that is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Avoiding contact with animals, especially dogs and monkeys, will reduce the risk of contracting rabies. The rabies vaccine should be considered for travellers intending to live or work in areas where rabies is present and rabies control programs for domestic animals are inadequate, or where adequate and safe post-exposure management is not available. Children, especially those who are too young to understand the need to avoid animals, should also be considered for pre-exposure immunization.
Typhoid fever is spread through contact with infected food and water. Vaccination against typhoid is recommended for travellers who will have prolonged exposure (> 4 weeks) to potentially contaminated food and water, especially those travelling to smaller cities, villages or rural areas in countries with a high incidence of the disease. Individuals billeted or visiting families in such areas may be at particularly high-risk.
Yellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Immunization against yellow fever is recommended to all travellers 9 months and older who are visiting or living in certain countries in Africa, Central America and South America where infected mosquitoes live and breed. A valid International Certificate of Vaccination, issued within the past 10 years, is mandatory for entrance into certain countries in Africa and South America. Other countries have requirements for proof of immunization from travellers who have passed through yellow fever endemic zones. It is also recommended for travel outside of urban areas in countries that lie in the yellow fever endemic zones. The recommendation of yellow fever immunization will depend on the itinerary of the traveller and the specific requirements of the country to be visited (including stopovers).