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Travel Immunizations

Aracely receiving her vaccinations

Aracely receiving her vaccinations

After the decision to drop everything and go travel was made, we had to write The List.  It began as a high level to do list which has grown organically into a massively detailed inventory of what we need to take care of before leaving it all behind for the adventure of a lifetime.  If you ask me, the list is on steroids; it has grown exponentially.  One of the sections of said list (yes, it has sections), is medical related tasks.

In the medical section we list things such as: purchasing travel insurance, getting physical exams, dental checkup and my absolute favorite, immunizations—I hate needles.  I’m that girl, the one that not only turns away when getting blood drawn, but also closes her eyes, tightly.  Yeah, that’s me.

Anyway, both Jason and I made appointments with our general practitioners to get some questions answered about the medical risks of long term travel in foreign countries; they both recommended consulting a travel specialist.  Luckily, we found a great one locally in Hoboken; Dr. Messihi certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases.

During our first consultation with Dr. Messihi he interviewed us about where we were planning to visit and for how long.  We really didn’t (and still don’t) have a set itinerary but through us telling him the general regions we were planning to travel (Central & South American and Southeast Asia) he was able to suggest several immunizations.  This list was right for us, make sure you consult a doctor to find out what is right for you.

Yellow Fever

An acute viral disease transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes

Polio

An acute viral infectious disease spread from person to person, primarily via the fecal-oral route

Tetanus

Infection generally occurs through wound contamination and often involves a cut or deep puncture wound

Typhoid Fever

Common worldwide, it is transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with feces from an infected person

Hepatitis A & B

A – An acute infectious disease of the liver, which is most commonly transmitted by the fecal-oral route via contaminated food or drinking water

B – Transmission results from exposure to infectious blood or body fluids containing blood

Japanese Encephalitis

A disease transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes.  Domestic pigs and wild birds are reservoirs of the virus

Adult Vaccination Center - Dr. Messihi

Adult Vaccination Center – Dr. Messihi

This list made me cringe.  Several hours after getting the shots (in both arms) the area started to become sore and mildly swell.  This is common and it may last for several days. The soreness made it difficult for me to lift my arms and I could barely wash my hair.

He also advised us to bring Malaria pills (prophylaxis) based on our intentions to spend some time in the jungle.  Apparently, there are different types of Malaria and therefore we need different types of prescriptions.  Dr. Messihi assigned some homework for us.  We were to visit the CDC website and look up each country we are considering visiting to identify what kind of Malaria prescriptions the doctor should prescribe us.  As noted in the comment section, the best medicine for Malaria is prevention.  Limit your skin’s exposure by covering up and use insect repellent that contains DEET.  No pill offers complete protection and all contain side effects.  Again, seek a physician for proper advice and always be aware of Malaria symptoms.  We are also bringing Cipro (Ciprofloxacin), in case for when, ahem, we get travelers’ diarrhea. Sound like over kill?  Maybe it is, but honestly, I’d rather be safe than sorry, even if it does mean I have to have tons of vaccinations and prescriptions.

A word of advice

Be sure to begin this process a couple months before your trip.  Some of the immunizations require second and third dosages weeks apart.  Also, be sure to shop around for prices and definitely take advantage of your health insurance, if you have one.  A few of the immunizations listed above were covered by our employer health insurance which can save you a couple hundred dollars.

Colin Wright says:

I’ll be getting the rest of my immunizations and vaccinations in a few days…already got typhoid, a few hepatitises and meningitis. I’ll probably stick to DEET for malaria when I head up to Brazil from Argentina (I hear the same about weird dreams and hallucinations), but it will be good to have yellow fever out of the way.

Mark H says:

I have actually had malaria from travelling despite being on recommended drugs and being careful (long sleeved light coloured shirts + long pants + shies/socks at dawn/dusk + DEET) which took hold after getting home. It is the worst illness I’ve ever had recurring every two days and screwing up your body temperature like you would’t believe. Once diagnosed, some seriously strong drugs which pounded you around for weeks got rid of malaria and it has never recurred. At the time, it was sleeping in ski jackets and turning pale blue in the middle of an Australian summer before waking up in a lather of sweat around seven hours laterma. While I have mixed feelings about the larial drugs and have travelled to places without them, do respect the covering of yourself and DEET and sleep under a DEET-inpreganted net if you can. It makes a huge difference and in some places the illness is very real and common(several in a village may have it or symptoms of it) – much more so than the yellow fevers and tetanuses and the other illnesses innoculated against. This isn’t too be alarmist – travel to these places is too precious to not go because you may get sick – but take sensible pre cautions as Two Backpackers appear to be.

Aracely says:

Yikes! Mark, sorry to hear about the malaria. This is why I was OK with the 50 needles. LOL. Thank you for comment. It’s been interesting to hear the different perspectives and experiences that are out there. I would advise everyone to do their research, see what they are personally comforatable with, and hope for the best.

Jillian says:

Malaria pills are a big debate on the road. We took Chorloquine throughout Central America without any side affects and we’re going to take Mefloquine in South America. Fortunately we don’t have to take any pills for the next several weeks since we’ll be at high altitudes. We met a number of travelers who had the pills with them but weren’t taking them regularly/properly or at all. Sounds like you’ve educated yourselves already about the pros/cons.

We also have CIPRO with us, we’ve used it twice already. Antibiotics are available inexpensively without prescription in Central America, but their selection is different so its good to have something with you.

We had the same shots as you, except for Japanese Encephalitis. It was too expensive at the time and we figured we wouldn’t need it for a while, so we’re hoping to get it in Europe. You can also get yellow fever inexpensively at a lot of public health departments.

Anyway sounds like you guys are off to a great start! Can’t wait to read more.

Aracely says:

Thanks for the note Jillian. Good tip on the CIPRO, I did know that from previous trips but only remembered it after you mentioned it. Safe travels to you.

Daniel says:

I don’t know how I feel about Malaria pills. Really they are just strong antibiotics. I’ve been to Malarial areas both with and without medication. I was on Mefloquine and found that it really had an affect on dreaming — I found that dreams were ultra vivid and often darn scary. I later learned that Mefloquine can be somewhat psychoactive — while I’m not sure about that was the cause, I thought that having myself on high-dose antibiotics for long periods of time wasn’t too good. Because malaria is treatable if detected early, I though that I would just be aware of the symptoms and go get checked out immediately if I was showing any. Combined with prevention — DEET and proper attire at dawn and dusk was enough to ensure that I didn’t get sick. Of course, this isn’t medical advice, just my own experience! So please, take it with a grain of salt!

Jason says:

I agree with covering your body up and using DEET as your number one prevention. None of the Malaria drugs are advisable to take long-term. If you plan to be in a jungle or known Malaria infested area you can take the drugs short-term, but again, they aren’t meant for long periods of doses.

Gadi Glogowski says:

I know it is too late for you guys but just wanted to share a piece of information.
If by any chance you go to Buenos Aires, Argentina before you go to a Yellow Fever infested area you can get a shot FREE of charge, no questions asked. You just show your passport and they give you a certificate. If anybody needs the address of the clinic or further info, let me know.

Jason says:

Thanks for the info Gadi; probably useful information in support of this blog. Aracely and I both received our Yellow Fever shots for a previous trip to Brazil. The shots were over $100, but at least they are effective for many years.

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