The last thing any traveller wants is to pick up some terrible disease on their long-term trip overseas. However, it’s all too common for travellers to become ill in countries where certain diseases have not been controlled as they are in Australia.
If you’re intending to travel overseas for a long period you will be at a higher risk, so it’s important that you are protected by making sure you have all the necessary vaccinations for the countries you intend to visit or stay for any length of time.
Some vaccines require less lead time, others more, so always consult your travel health provider at least 4 - 6 weeks before you intend to leave Australia. Your immune system will need time to respond to the vaccines and some vaccinations may require you to have more than one injection.
Your travel health provider can also give you advice on how to avoid contracting infectious diseases while overseas for long periods, including making sure you don’t consume potentially contaminated food or water, and tips on taking medications while travelling.
Get All Your Vaccinations Well Before You Travel
While travelling you can be exposed to many infectious diseases that you wouldn’t be exposed to in Australia where control has been achieved through broad-scaled vaccination programs and other health initiatives. In rare cases, people have died after contracting diseases while travelling in overseas countries.
Travellers at higher risk of infection are the elderly, babies and young children, pregnant women, and anyone whose immune system is compromised due to illness or medication.
What Exactly is Vaccination?
Firstly, if a foreign invader such as a virus or bacteria gets into your body, specific immune cells (lymphocytes) naturally respond by producing antibodies to fight the invader. If you're a healthy person, you can produce millions of antibodies in one day and fight infections so efficiently that you won’t even know you’ve been exposed.
However, the first time your body faces a particular virus or germ, it can take days to ramp up your antibody response.
On the other hand, if you’ve been vaccinated, your body will recognise the threat straight away. Vaccines are made from weakened or dead antigens and could be likened to tuition for your immune system so vaccines teach your body to fight disease without actually having the disease.
Even though vaccines cannot cause an infection, your immune system will see the weakened or dead antigens as an enemy and produce antibodies in response(1), thus protecting you from becoming ill.
What Diseases Can I be Vaccinated Against?
There are various health risks which vary from country to country and even in different areas of one country or region. There can also be disease outbreaks at the time of your travel, so your travel health provider will assess what you should be vaccinated against to cover you for your trip. Some countries, won’t allow you to cross the border unless you have proof vaccination, which is another reason to consult your travel health provider at least 4- 6 weeks before you leave.
Your travel health provider will take into account the following information:
Where you were born
Your previous vaccination history
Your general health
Any of your past or present illnesses
Your travel itinerary
The length of your stay
The type of travel i.e adventurous, leisure or business travel
You could be recommended to have one or more of the following vaccines:
Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
It’s important that you consult your travel health provider for expert advice well before you leave for your long-term overseas trip, as there could be other considerations and disease outbreaks which are unique to the areas you're visiting, which are not not covered in the list above.
What if I’ve been vaccinated in the past against these diseases?
Another reason you should consult your travel health provider is to check on past vaccinations. Even if you have been vaccinated against some diseases, your immunity to some of them might have reduced or changed or it could be time for a booster.
In regards to some of your childhood immunisation, it will depend on your country of birth, and your age as to what vaccinations you have been given. Boosters may be recommended in some instances.
More information about the vaccines:
Vaccines against tetanus, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, mumps, measles, rubella, and varicella are part of Australia's childhood vaccination program. However, a booster may be needed depending on your age.
If you’re travelling to some countries, especially where bottled water is recommended, make sure your hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines are up to date.
For some vaccines, you’ll need more than one dose, so the course of injections must be started well before you intend to depart. These include rabies and hepatitis B.
High-risk, frequent, or long-term travellers are advised to have Hepatitis B vaccinations.
Consider pre-exposure rabies vaccination if you’re going to a country where exposure to animals is possible and where rabies is endemic or exists.
There are other destination-specific vaccines. For instance, you will need to prove you've had your yellow fever vaccination to be allowed into some areas of Africa, the Caribbean and South America.
For Asia, a Japanese encephalitis vaccination may be recommended for certain short-term, long-term or high-risk travellers and a meningitis vaccination might be recommended for some places in Africa and elsewhere.
Are There Any Side-Effects?
There is the possibility of side effects with all medicines, including vaccines, and the effects can range from mild to severe. With vaccines, however, the side effects are usually mild and usually disappear within a few days.
The most common side effects include:
Pain, redness and tenderness at the injection site
Headache, tiredness and nausea
Joint or muscle pain
If you have side effects related to your vaccination and you’re worried about them, always consult your travel health provider or your nearest medical centre.
Kym Wallis, the founding director of Higher Ranking has over 15 years of advertising sales, digital strategy, and business development experience. He is currently working as Digital Adviser for TravelVax.
Royalty free images for use sourced by Kim