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What vaccinations do I need before traveling abroad?

Before traveling abroad, make an appointment with your healthcare professional at least four to six weeks before your trip to see if you need any travel-related vaccinations. The only required vaccines are yellow fever for those traveling to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America and the meningococcal vaccine for travel to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj (the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca).

You can learn more about vaccines required and suggested for overseas travel at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Your local health department can typically provide the vaccines.

The immunizations recommended for travel abroad can be divided into three general categories, says Lynn Stephens, a nurse-practitioner with the Travel Medicine Program at the UCLA Family Health Center in Santa Monica.

  • The first is vaccines that people should make sure they have had regardless of whether they are traveling, including tetanus and the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine -- particularly given that these diseases are more prevalent in many parts of the world than in the United States. "Flu shots are also advisable," recommends Zachary Rubin, MD, director of the Santa Monica-UCLA Center for Travel and Tropical Medicine, "even in the summer, since flu is spread year-round rather than seasonally in many regions."
  • The second group includes vaccines to prevent diseases spread by food and water, including hepatitis A and typhoid.
  • The third includes vaccines for diseases more specific to the locale, such as yellow fever for those entering certain tropical and jungle areas.

Malaria spread by mosquitoes is a major risk in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. “Although there is no vaccine against malaria, medications can be prescribed that are very effective in preventing the disease,” Dr. Rubin says. These, too, require planning ahead so that they have time to take effect.

Although most doctors’ offices can provide common immunizations such as tetanus, less routine vaccines typically require a travel-medicine specialist.

Dr. Daniel S. Caplivski, MD
Infectious Disease Specialist

The recommended vaccinations that are given before travel depend on several factors including specific country itinerary, duration of stay, activities while traveling, and the underlying health of the traveler. Vaccines that are used more commonly for travel to developing countries include hepatitis a vaccine, typhoid vaccine and yellow fever vaccine. Of note, the yellow fever vaccine is sometimes required for entry into certain countries. The best initial resource to consult is the CDC website but individual decisions about vaccines are best made together with a travel medicine specialist. A listing of travel medicine specialists can be found at www.istm.org.

The Mount Sinai Travel Medicine Site is: http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/service-areas/infectious-diseases/areas-of-care/travel-medicine-program

Additional information for my practice is available at: http://www.mountsinai.org/profiles/daniel-s-caplivski

Traveling abroad is a great experience. Vaccinations required prior to international travel depend on your destination. Visit the Centers for Disease Control website and you can search recommended vaccinations based on countries. In general, you should have at least your routine vaccinations done, which can be completed at your family doctor's office. Also keep in mind that vaccinations should be done six weeks prior to travel, as some of these are given in more than one visit and can take some time to become active in your body.

After you decide your destinations and especially if they are outside the US, it's a good idea to make an appointment with a travel health expert to discuss your general health and immunization needs. Whether or not you will need particular vaccines will depend where you go. Check with organizations like the Northwestern Memorial Physicians Travel Medical Center - (www.nmh.org/nm/travel-medicine) or CDC for guidance.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.