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Essential Travel Vaccinations

While numerous vaccines are strongly suggested by the CDC or the State Department, some are actually required by certain countries to cross their borders. In most cases, advance planning is necessary so that enough time is given for the vaccination to kick in. Here are some of the bare essentials:

POLIO

Who Should Get It & When: Anybody over the age of 18 needs a polio booster. It can be administered anytime before travel.

Destinations & Dangers: “Polio was mostly eradicated, but there are still pockets remaining in Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan,” says Stuart Rose, M.D., of Travel Medicine.

HEPATITIS A

Who Should Get It & When: Antibodies develop within two weeks of injection, so getting the shot a month before travel is playing it safe. A second dose six to 12 months later boosts antibody levels, providing virtually complete immunity.

Destinations & Dangers: Hepatitis A, a viral infection of the liver, is picked up from water and food (especially shellfish) or is transmitted sexually. According to the CDC, Mexico and Central and South America are the highest-risk areas for Americans.

HEPATITIS B

Who Should Get It & When: Three doses provide lifelong protection: The first should be given at least one month before travel, the second one month later, and the third six months after the second. Alternately, Twinrix, a combination Hepatitis A and B vaccine, can be administered over three weeks.

Destinations & Dangers: Hepatitis B is passed on through bodily fluids or syringes. The vaccine probably isn’t necessary for most travelers, but anybody can end up exposed to blood or an unsterilized needle, so it’s not a bad idea. High-risk regions for Hepatitis B are Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

RABIES

Who Should Get It & When: A series of three injections is given over three to four weeks, to be completed before travel. More doses are required in the case of an actual bite. If contracted, rabies must be treated with a shot of rabies immune globulin, says Bradley Connor, M.D., of Travel Health Services, “which probably isn’t available in Nepal.”

Destinations & Dangers: Rabies is a viral infection of the central nervous system, transmitted by an animal bite, usually that from a dog or a monkey in the developing world, or a bat, a skunk, a fox, or a raccoon in North America. Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Central and South America are all hosts to rabies. A vaccine is recommended for travelers who may come in contact with these animals, particularly children, who tend to find such beasts cute.

YELLOW FEVER

Who Should Get It & When: This vaccine should be given a minimum of ten days before travel and is considered effective for at least ten years. Pregnant women or anyone sensitive to eggs are advised against getting it.

Destinations & Dangers: Carried by a day-biting mosquito, yellow fever, a viral infection of the liver, is found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and Panama. An international certificate of vaccination confirming inoculation (or, alternately, a waiver) is required for entry into certain countries, listed on cdc.gov.

TYPHOID FEVER

Who Should Get It & When: Available as a single injection or as four capsules, this vaccine takes effect one week after the last dose—but it’s only ever about 65 percent effective. It is not recommended for young children.

Destinations & Dangers: Typhoid is spread through contaminated food or water. It occurs mainly in South and Southeast Asia, but there is also risk in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.

TETANUS

Who Should Get It & When: Everyone, travelers and homebodies alike, should get a tetanus shot every five to ten years. (It now protects against diphtheria and whooping cough as well.)

Destinations & Dangers: Rusty nails are everywhere, so no place is without risk. Tetanus, otherwise known as lockjaw, gets serious when the severe spasms caused by the disease start to affect the respiratory muscles and interfere with breathing.

Source: DEPARTURES (Aimee Lee Ball)

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