Traveling? Get Vaccinated

Now that spring is here, the worst influenza season in nearly a decade is winding down.

So you don’t need another flu shot until next fall or winter—correct?

And then there’s the vacation hookup. “Statistics show that when people travel, they more often engage in casual or unplanned sex,” says Kozarsky, who suggests pre-planning for protection.

It depends. If you’re traveling outside the United States for pleasure or business, it’s important to remember that it’s always flu season somewhere. In the Northern Hemisphere, flu season lasts from November through April. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the opposite: May through October. In the equatorial regions of the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia, the flu circulates year-round.

“People don’t think of a flu shot as a travel vaccine,” says Phyllis Kozarsky, an infectious disease specialist at the Emory TravelWell Clinic. “But influenza is the most common vaccine-preventable illness. It’s a good idea to get vaccinated, even when traveling off season.”

Kozarsky also advises travelers to make sure they are up to date on vaccinations most people get during childhood: MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella, known as the German measles), varicella (chickenpox), and hepatitis A and B (which cause serious liver inflammation). Some adults may lack protection, depending on whether a particular vaccine was available when they were children.

“We forget that measles is incredibly common worldwide,” says Kozarsky. “There have been major outbreaks in Europe, where the vaccine is not mandatory. We see returning travelers come back with measles, which can kill people. The same goes for chickenpox, which may be more serious in adults.”

Several years ago, Kozarsky treated a man from Africa who was quite ill. His symptoms included swelling on one side of his neck. Turns out he had the mumps, which physicians now rarely see in the U.S. because of the MMR vaccine. “These diseases still occur in travelers,” she says. “We see these kinds of illnesses with greater frequency than exotic diseases.”

At TravelWell, vaccinations for exotic diseases such as yellow fever, typhoid fever, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, and cholera (now reserved for relief workers in disaster areas) are given to travelers based on their needs. Factors include destination, time of year, activity, and access to safe water and food.

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