From souvenirs to lasting memories, there are plenty of great things to bring back from far-off lands. But one thing you don’t want to carry home is illness.
That’s why immunizations are an important part of the trip-preparation process, especially for travel to countries where diseases not common in the U.S. are prevalent.
The first step in travel health—and this is an easy thing to do when you’re making your initial plans—is to use a website like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or Travel Health Online (free registration required). Figure out what immunizations and medications are required for the region you wish to visit, and which additional ones are recommended. Sometimes the recommendations vary depending on what you’ll be doing once you arrive. For instance, if you’re going to the jungles of Guatemala to explore Maya ruins such as Tikal, an anti-malarial will be in order, and you’ll probably want a Typhoid vaccine if you’re going to Cambodia.
The CDC recommends that you set up your immunizations appointment four to six weeks before your trip. Since some medications require multiple doses before you leave, and you may have to start taking some medications a week or two before departure, it’s important to not leave the appointment until the last minute.
You can either visit your regular doctor for immunizations and medications or seek out a specialized travel doctor. After trying both, I can say that either is fine, though you might get more destination-specific expertise from a specialist.
Before going to Guatemala last year, I did an online search and found The Travel Doctor in Oakland, California. Since the staff deals only with travel-related medical issues, I felt confident in their recommendations. They sent me off with a sore arm, health and safety information about my destination, and some serious bug repellent.
About six months later, before a trip to Belize, I did my own research and then went to my general practitioner for follow-up immunizations and a round of anti-malarials. My doctor didn’t know quite as much offhand about the medical concerns in my destination, but my health insurance covered the appointment and I had already received most of the immunizations I needed prior to my earlier trip.