Getting vaccinated may be the last thing on your mind when heading off on vacation, but it’s important — whether you are traveling to an exotic destination or not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory recently, pointing out that the United States is currently experiencing the highest number of measles cases in over 15 years, many of which were acquired overseas.
As of June, 156 confirmed cases of measles had been reported to the center this year; 136 of them involved unvaccinated Americans who had recently traveled abroad, unvaccinated visitors to the United States and people who didn’t travel but may have caught the disease from those who did.
The advisory, which encourages travelers planning trips abroad to make sure they have had the M.M.R. (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine before they leave, illustrates that it isn’t just far-flung places that are a source of concern — outbreaks are occurring in places like France, Britain, Spain and Switzerland.
Those who run travel clinics are very used to seeing people going to developing countries or tropical countries getting the relevant shots. But nobody thinks about it when they go to Europe.
The thinking is similar for other popular destinations, including Mexico and parts of Central America. There’s not a perception that you need to go and get a bunch of shots if you’re going to Cancun. But in fact, you should consider being vaccinated for certain food- and water-borne diseases like Hepatitis A— one of the most common vaccine-preventable infections acquired during travel — which is prevalent in Mexico and other destinations in Latin America. International travel was the most frequently identified risk factor for hepatitis A among United States cases for which exposure information was collected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As in previous years, most of those travel-related cases (85 percent) were associated with travel to Mexico, Central America or South America.
Though many people recover from hepatitis A within a few weeks, in some cases the symptoms — fatigue, nausea, diarrhea and jaundice can last two months or longer.
As a general rule, travelers should be up to date on routine immunizations no matter where they are going and what they are doing. As for measles, the highly contagious disease has always been a risk for travelers in the developing world, experts say. But the increase in cases in the United States and large outbreaks occurring in Europe are recent issues, stemming in part from fears of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children because they believe immunizations cause illnesses, particularly autism, even though studies have found no reputable evidence to support such a claim.
Before any international travel, infants 6 months through 11 months of age should have at least one dose of measles vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children 12 months or older should have two doses separated by at least 28 days — whether traveling or not. And adults should review their vaccination records to ensure they’re up to date.
But be sure to consult a travel medicine expert, ideally four to six weeks before your trip, for a complete assessment.
A good doctor who specializes in travel medicine will go through your entire itinerary carefully, and consider everything from the regions you will be visiting , your travel style, and the time of year, which can influence exposure to mosquitoes, to determine if the recommended vaccines or prevention measures are really necessary for your vacation.
Many countries require an “international certificate of vaccination or prophylaxis” signed by a medical provider for the yellow fever vaccine from travelers coming from an infected area. To be sure, travel vaccines aren’t cheap. But as long as you aren’t paying for unnecessary immunizations, the shots are worth it.
Bottom line, vaccines are just as important as your insurance policy.
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