Back in 2009 when I decided at Christmas time that I couldn’t resist the urge any longer to travel to Costa Rica, the thought never even crossed my mind that there may be travel vaccines required before I went! It wasn’t until about two weeks before departure that someone mentioned it to me and I decided to look into it. Much to my surprise, I was already too late to have the full course of vaccines that were recommended, but at least I could get started on them.
Now, being a more seasoned traveler, I am much more aware of the need for medications and vaccines when traveling and I understand that each country is different. Each city, community, state or area within a country can have vastly different requirements. Now, I know that 4-8 weeks in advance of any travel, I need to book an appointment with the travel health clinic. These professionals research your trip in advance and talk to you about all of the diseases and issues that you might come in contact with. For the most part, it is up to you to decide what medications and vaccines you want to take, but sometimes proof of vaccination is required before entering or leaving specific countries, such as yellow fever.
Many vaccines are lifelong protection from illnesses that are present in Canada and US, but much more prominent in under developed countries.
Most importantly, no matter where you are traveling outside of Canada, it is extremely important to have your childhood needles up to date. When we are young and get vaccinated for measles, mumps, tetanus and many others, we often forget to get our booster shots when we are older … or maybe think that they aren’t important. And in some cases vaccines have been changed, updated or have additional protections added to them.
In 2004 I was chopping wood at my home in Truro, NS. I nearly cut off my thumb with a rusty old axe and guess what? When I went to the hospital, the first thing they wanted to know was if I was up to date on my tetanus shots. Seeing as I hadn’t specifically ever sought one out just for fun, I was given the proper shot. It was a pretty easy fix, here in Canada. Take that same situation to the Amazon, or Africa when you step on a rusty nail or cut yourself while cooking during a homestay and they might not have the tetanus vaccine available to give you.
The tetanus shot actually covers you for tetanus and diphtheria and is good for about 10 years. This particular vaccine is free in Canada .. or rather our tax dollars pay for it. Either way, there is no cost to keep your tetanus shot up to date. The downfall (albeit a small one) is that this is a vaccine that does make your arm pretty sore. Better than death by rusty nail though!
When I traveled to Costa Rica, my travel health professional strongly suggested that I be vaccinated for Hepatitus A and B. This is done through a vaccine called Twinrix which you get three doses of, at specific intervals. For me, I was able to get my first two shots in before leaving Canada, but had to wait until I returned to have the final booster shot. Now that I’ve had it taken care of though, it is good for life! This isn’t just a travel vaccine though. It is recommended to most young adults as it is protection against the sexually transmitted type of Hepatitus as well as from the form carried in water and ice cubes.
Even if you are traveling for a week’s vacation to Dominican, Cuba or Mexico you should be vaccinated for Hepatitus. Their cleanliness standards are just simply not the same as ours and whether on or off resort, you are at risk.
Of course for anyone who is going to party, do drugs or have sex, the risk increases greatly. Do you really want to live with a liver disease for the rest of your life because you got drunk and had sex with a random guy/girl just one night? Then, you can carry the disease and pass it on to others. If you simply don’t care, then you suck. I think the three vaccines cost me about $200 over the course of six months, but now I am protected for the rest of my life.
As I was doing a little extra research before writing this blog I discovered that the hepatitus that is carried in water, some shellfish and on raw food is contaminated by human waste. It could be food that has been handled by someone who is infected and doesn’t wash their hands before handling your food, from poor water purification practices or from raw sewage going into the ocean where your seafood comes from.
Now that you are sufficiently disgusted … go get your Twinrix shots from your family physician or travel health clinic (about $200). While you are there, make sure you are up to date on measles, mumps, tetanus, diphtheria and maybe even chicken pox too. All of those last ones are paid for by the government, so protect yourself!
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A TRAVEL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. THE INFORMATION IN THIS POST IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. SIX WEEKS PRIOR TO TRAVEL YOU SHOULD CONSULT A TRAVEL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL ABOUT YOUR OWN UNIQUE TRAVEL PLANS AND HEALTH CONCERNS.