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Travel vaccinations

Different countries can have infectious diseases that aren’t present or very common in Australia. Before you travel, it’s important to have the right vaccinations to prevent you from becoming ill while you’re away. Depending on where you’re planning to go, you may need one or more vaccinations before you travel.

 

About travel vaccinations 

Before you travel, see your GP, pharmacist or travel doctor at least six weeks before you leave. They can advise you about vaccinations that you may need for your trip well before your departure date. The vaccines you need will vary depending on your health and your exact itinerary; for example, where you’re going, how long you’re going for, the season you’re travelling in, what kinds of transportation you’ll be using, where you’re staying and what you’ll be eating. People at higher risk of developing travel related illness include pregnant women, children, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Before travelling make sure you are up-to-date with routine vaccinations such as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, polio, influenza and pneumococcal. In some cases, you may need booster doses of childhood vaccinations to make sure you still have immunity to these diseases. Some diseases are endemic (always present) in certain areas/countries so the need for vaccinations for these places is routine. Other diseases come and go and this is why the vaccination requirements can vary country to country, season to season, year to year.

You may need to be vaccinated for certain diseases as a condition of entry to some countries so it’s a good idea to check with the embassy or consulate of the countries you’re visiting or travelling through before you go.

The benefits of being well-prepared against certain infectious diseases will often outweigh any rare, potential side effects from vaccinations. If you have any questions about any vaccinations that have been recommended to you, discuss them with your GP, travel doctor or pharmacist. Once you’ve had your vaccinations, remember to document the details and carry a copy with you when you travel.

If you need vaccinations, it’s a good idea to have them at least 6-8 weeks before departure. This allows time for the vaccination to take effect and for your body to be protected against particular diseases. Once you’ve had your vaccinations, remember to document the details and carry a copy with you when you travel.

Not all illnesses can be prevented through vaccination and you may need to take other measures to prevent illness. Find out whether tap water is safe before your go. If you can catch mosquito borne disease in the area you are travelling to (eg in the tropics) take measures to avoid being bitten. Talk to your doctor about what else you can do to help prevent these diseases.

The information below outlines common travel vaccinations.

Cholera 

Infectious agent: The bacterium Vibrio cholerae
Main symptom(s): Severe diarrhoea

Where is it most commonly found?

Cholera is mainly found in areas of poor hygiene and sanitation.

How are you likely to catch the disease?

Direct faecal-oral contamination or by consuming contaminated water or food.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

People at considerable risk; for example, if you’re working in humanitarian disaster and relief situations or if you’re travelling to an area that has a cholera epidemic (a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time).

How is the vaccination given?

As an oral liquid – you’ll need two doses between one and six weeks apart, with the second dose taken at least a week before you travel.

How long will the vaccination protect you for?

The cholera vaccine doesn't give you lifelong immunity – talk to your doctor regarding booster doses.

Other protective measures you can take

Food and water hygiene and hand washing precautions

Hepatitis A  

Infectious agent: Hepatitis A virus
Main symptom(s): Liver disease

Where is it most commonly found?

Countries where the Hepatitis A is moderately-to-highly endemic (commonly present), including all developing countries.

How are you likely to catch the disease?

Direct faecal-oral contamination or by consuming contaminated water or food.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

All travellers >1 years old travelling to an area with a moderate-to-high risk of hepatitis A infection including all developing countries.

How is the vaccination given?

Two injections, 6 to 12 months apart. It’s best to have the first injection at least two weeks before you travel, but it’s possible to have it the day before you leave.

How long will the vaccination protect you for?

Having both doses of the vaccine can give you up to 20 years protection.

Other protective measures you can take

Food and water hygiene and hand washing precautions

Japanese encephalitis 

Infectious agent: Japanese encephalitis virus
Main symptom(s): Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)

Where is it most commonly found?

It’s common in rural parts of Asia, in Papua New Guinea and tropical North-East Australia.

How are you likely to catch the disease?

Through mosquito bites.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

If you’re travelling to an endemic area (a place where a particular disease is regularly found) for a month or longer, especially if you’re planning to go to rural areas, if you’re going during the wet season, or if you’re expecting to spend considerable time outdoors.

How is the vaccination given?

You’ll need three injections – the first at least a month before travel, the second a week after the first, and the third at one month.

How long will the vaccination protect you for?

Boosters are required every three years.

Other protective measures you can take

Because Japanese encephalitis is spread by mosquitoes, it’s also important to take measures to avoid being bitten by them. This may include wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs, regularly applying an appropriate insect repellent and staying in mosquito-proof accommodation.

Meningococcal meningitis 

Infectious agent: The bacterium Neisseria meningitidis
Main symptom(s): Infection affecting the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Where is it most commonly found?

Common in sub-Saharan Africa and Saudi Arabia.

How are you likely to catch the disease?

Person-to-person through breathing in air-borne droplets.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

If you're backpacking or living in a rural area of a country with a high risk of meningitis, or if you’re staying in such a country for a month or more, you’ll need the meningococcal vaccine. The vaccine is also required for all pilgrims travelling to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia

How is the vaccination given?

A single injection of the vaccine containing A, C, W and Y strains.

How long will the vaccination protect you for?

Boosters every 3-5 years if you’re still at risk.

Rabies  

Infectious agent: Rabies virus
Main symptom(s): progressive, fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord

Where is it most commonly found?

Rabies is common in developing countries, such as in Africa, Asia and South America.

How are you likely to catch the disease?

People usually catch it after being bitten or scratched by an infected animal (primarily dogs and bats). An animal does not need to be appear ill to be in infected.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

If you’re staying for a month or more to an area where rabies is endemic (commonly present). You may also need a rabies vaccine if there’s a chance you may be exposed to rabies due to your activities, for example if you’re working with wild or domestic animals that may be infected or are in an area where rabies is endemic.

How is the vaccination given?

Three injections, with the second a week (7 days) after the first, and the third after another three weeks (28 days after the first).

How long will the vaccination protect you for?

Having the rabies vaccine doesn't mean you're immune to the disease. However, if you are vaccinated, managing your treatment if you’re exposed to rabies will be simpler. You may need a booster every 2 years if you’re still at risk.

Other protective measures you can take

Wound cleansing and immunisation within a few hours after contact with a suspect rabid animal.

Typhoid 

Infectious agent: The bacterium Salmonella Typhi
Main symptom(s): Fever and headache. Some people have rose spots on the trunk of the body. Constipation or diarrhoea may occur.

Where is it most commonly found?

Typhoid outbreaks are more common in countries or areas with poor sanitation, poor food hygiene and untreated drinking water. This can include parts of the Indian subcontinent, most countries in South-East Asia, many south Pacific nations and Papua New Guinea.

How are you likely to catch the disease?

Direct faecal-oral contamination or by consuming contaminated water or food.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

All travellers over 2 years of age travelling to areas where typhoid is endemic (commonly present).

How is the vaccination given?

A single injection. You can also take it orally as a course of three capsules, each taken two days apart.

How long will the vaccination protect you for?

Boosters at 3-yearly intervals if you’re still at risk.

Other protective measures you can take

Food and water hygiene and hand washing precautions.

Yellow fever 

Infectious agent: Yellow fever virus
Main symptom(s): Visible bleeding, jaundice, kidney and liver failure

Where is it most commonly found?

Yellow fever mainly occurs in tropical areas of Africa and South America. It’s considered endemic (always present) in 32 African and 13 Central and South American countries.

How are you likely to catch the disease?

Through mosquito bites.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

The vaccine is recommended for all travellers over nine months of age travelling in or pass through any country in West Africa, and also if travelling outside urban areas of other yellow fever-endemic countries. If you have a child of less than nine months travelling with you, ask your GP or other health professional for advice.

How is the vaccination given?

The yellow fever vaccine is a single dose injection, preferably given at least 10 days before you travel. Yellow fever vaccinations must be provided by an approved yellow fever vaccination clinic. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is valid for 10 years and begins 10 days after vaccination. To find your nearest yellow fever vaccination clinic, please contact your state or territory health department.

How long will the vaccination protect you for?

A booster is required at 10 years if you are still at ongoing risk.

Other protective measures you can take

It’s important to take measures to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. This may include wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs, regularly applying an appropriate insect repellent and staying in mosquito-proof accommodation.

Getting vaccinated  

It’s best to see your GP or go to a travel clinic about six to eight weeks before you go. Some vaccines require a long period to take effect and you may need to have a course of vaccinations at different times over a number of weeks. This time between injections lets your body respond to the vaccine so you develop immunity to protect you against infection. Generally you will have vaccine injections in your upper arm or on the outside of your upper thigh.

If there are less than six to eight weeks before you plan to travel, still go to your GP or travel clinic as there may be an option to have a course of injections over a shorter period.

Some rebates are available with Medicare and sometimes also with your travel and or health insurance cover. Check with your insurance agent and your doctor, pharmacist or travel clinic to get a better idea about the costs involved.

Precautions against other infectious diseases 

There are infectious diseases for which no vaccines are available. These can be transmitted by infected food or water (eg gastroenteritis, giardiasis, amoebic dysentery) or by insects (eg malaria, dengue fever). The diseases can be life threatening so it’s important to take other precautions apart from getting your travel vaccinations. Your doctor can advise on measures and medications to help prevent these diseases.

Further information  

The Australian Immunisation Handbook
http://www.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook-home

WHO. International travel and health 2012
http://www.who.int/ith/diseases/en/

Sources 

Clinical Knowledge Summaries. Immunizations – travel vaccinations. [online] London: National Institutes for Health and Clinical Excellence. 2007 [last updated Feb 2011, accessed 16 Jan 2012] Available from: http://www.cks.nhs.uk/immunizations_travel

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Health Information for International Travel 2012. [online] New York: Oxford University Press. 2012 [accessed 16 Jan 2012] Available from: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/yellowbook-2012-home.htm

Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA). The Australian Immunisation Handbook. 9th ed. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. 2008 [Last updated Sept 2010, accessed 16 Jan 2012] Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/Handbook-home

DOHA Smart traveller health tips. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. 2011 [Accessed 16 January 2012] Available from: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/tips/health.html

DOHA. Yellow fever fact sheets. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. 2011 [Last modified 8 Apr 2011, accessed 16 January 2012] Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/yellowfever Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. Healthcare guidelines: immunizations. [online] Bloomington, MN:

Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. 2011 [accessed 12 Dec 2011] Available from: http://www.icsi.org/guidelines_and_more/gl_os_prot/preventive_health_maintenance/immunizations___guideline_/immunizations__guideline__38399.html Rossi S (ed). Australian Medicines Handbook. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook. 2011.

World Health Organization (WHO). Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals fact sheets. [online] Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. 2008-2011. [accessed 12 Dec 2011] Available from: http://www.who.int/immunization/newsroom/factsheets/en/index.html

WHO. Hepatitis A – an introduction. [online] Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. [Accessed 17 Jan 2012] Available from: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/hepatitis/whocdscsredc2007/en/index1.html

Last published: 31 January 2012

Disclaimer
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information, except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

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