Vaccinations for an African Hunt

I knew vaccines and prescriptions would be required before leaving for Africa. However, I didn’t realize I would need to plan so far in advance. I didn’t know the Department of Health had limited availability for consultations and appointments or the associated expense. Key to success? Plan ahead. Like 3 months ahead.

Where to begin

Start with copies of your travel itinerary and infant vaccination records. If you have insurance coverage, call your primary care physician for an appointment. If you don’t have insurance coverage, check within your community to see if they offer free or discounted vaccines for travelers. Once you decide where to go, be sure to confirm the accepted method of payment. Do not forgo vaccines and prescriptions because of cost—accept this additional expense as an essential part of your travel budget.

Don’t wait – call for an appointment today

Depending on which vaccines are required, you may need to be vaccinated weeks in advance of your trip. You may also find limited availability when making an appointment so call far enough in advance of your trip. The recommended vaccines and prescriptions should be discussed with you before and during your consultation. Below are a few of the must-haves and some other ones to consider.

Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) – Hepatitis A is a serious liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A Virus and the vaccine is recommended for all travelers.

How it spreads: It is usually spread by close personal contact and eating food or drinking water containing the HAV. It can easily be passed from one person to another.

How often: Two doses of the vaccine are needed, should be given at least 6 months apart, can be given at the same time as other vaccines, provides 15-20 years of coverage, and one dose provides 97% protection. It’s best to start the vaccine series at least one month before travel and this vaccine is recommended for all travelers.

Approximate cost: $75.00 - 96.00

Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) – Don’t mess around. The measles virus causes rash, cough, runny nose, eye irritation and fever. It can lead to ear infection, pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death. The mumps virus causes fever, headache, muscle pain, loss of appetite, and swollen glands. It can lead to deafness, meningitis, painful swelling of the ovaries or testicles, and sometimes infertility. The rubella virus causes rash, arthritis (mostly in women), and mild fever.

How it spreads: MMR spreads from person to person through the air. You can easily catch MMR being around someone who is already infected.

How often: You may have already had one dose when you were born, depending on your age. Generally, anyone 18 years of age or older who was born after 1956 should get at least one dose of the MMR vaccine, unless you can show you have had all three diseases or have already been vaccinated. Its recommended people have 2 doses in their lifetime. I was vaccinated for this as a child but never again later in life. I decided to get a booster, MMR2, to cover me going forward since I didn’t have two as a child.

Approximate cost: $59.00 - 80.00

Typhoid Vaccine – Typhoid, also known as typhoid fever, is a serious disease caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi. It causes a high fever, fatigue, weakness, stomach pains, headache, loss of appetite, and sometimes a rash. If left untreated, it can kill up to 30% of people who get it.

How it spreads: People who get typhoid become ‘carriers’ who spread the disease to others. Generally people get typhoid from contaminated food or water. It is rare in the U.S., and most U.S. citizens who get typhoid get it while traveling.

How often: There are two vaccines to prevent typhoid. One is administered as an injection with an inactivated (killed) vaccine that should be given at least two weeks before travel. (A booster dose is needed every 2 years for people who remain at risk.) The other is taken orally but is a live, attenuated (weakened) vaccine, given in 4 doses over a seven day period. (A booster is needed every five years for people who remain at risk.) It is recommended for travelers who visit parts of the world where typhoid is common. The vaccine is not 100% effective so you must still be careful about what you eat and drink. Bottled water is highly recommended.

Approximate cost: $84.00 - 105.00

Nicole's beautiful African impala. Nicole's beautiful African impala.

 

Other vaccines and prescriptions to consider depending on your travel plans

Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis - You should have this one already. A booster is a good idea. This is one vaccine you will benefit from not only during travel, but also in the U.S. when you return.

Malaria – Transmission of this bugger occurs throughout the year but is highest from October through May. Depending on your destination and length of stay, you may or may not want to have these antibiotics on hand. I would recommend getting a prescription regardless. It’s inexpensive and if you need it, you’ll be glad you made the purchase.

Traveler’s Diarrhea – Don’t leave home without the prescription. Even in the nicest accommodations, travelers are coming down with traveler’s diarrhea. An it’s extremely easy to get if your accommodations are average. The prescription is inexpensive and well worth the purchase should you come down with this bugger.

Hepatitis B Vaccine – This vaccine is recommend for prolonged stays, or short stays in high-risk countries. Are you an adventure traveler? Is there a possibility of you getting acupuncture, dental work, a tattoo, having a new sexual partner, or the need to seek medical care abroad? You might add this vaccine to your list.

Yellow Fever – Depending on your travel, some countries require this vaccine for entry, especially if you are coming from a country with risk of yellow fever like Tanzania, Zambia, Somalia, etc. It is not recommended for travelers unless it is officially required for entry.

Rabies – This vaccine is recommended for prolonged stays, rural travels, hikers, cave explorers, backpackers, travel that puts you in contact with bats, dogs, jackals, mongoose, or fox, or if you will be more than 24 hours from a medical facility that treats rabies. All bites and scratches should be taken seriously even for those who have been immunized. But plan ahead—this vaccine requires 3 rounds.

Africa is a magical place of hills ablaze in golden grasses studded with green acacias--but with dangerous and sui generis diseases. Based on the 6 P's (Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance), hopefully my vaccine and antibiotic regimen has kept me safe from all-things-creepy inlcuding rickettsial and arboviral infections, and Crimean-congo hemorrhagic fever.

Stay safe out there!

Please note these are only suggestions and all medical care should be reviewed by your physician.

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