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Fall 2006

Include Time for Immunizations When Making Travel Plans

Approximately half of Americans who travel abroad get sick or injured during the trip, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In many cases, following simple precautions can prevent these misfortunes.

One of the most important strategies is to plan ahead, says Lynn Stephens, family nurse practitioner at UCLA's Family Health Center travel medicine clinic. Any vaccinations that are needed should be obtained at least four to six weeks prior to the trip. "Some vaccines take time to become effective, or need to be given more than once over a period of time," she notes.

Travelers to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and developed countries in Europe are at no greater risk for infection than they are in the United States. But elsewhere, depending on the specifics of the travel and  accommodations, food- and water-borne infections are not uncommon. Two of the most common of these diseases for which there are vaccines are hepatitis A and typhoid, notes Matthew Leibowitz, M.D., infectious diseases specialist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

Malaria remains a major risk in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, but can be protected against through precautions that include taking an anti-malarial drug and preventing mosquito bites. Dr. Leibowitz also recommends flu shots for travelers during the flu season.

The only vaccination required by international health regulations is yellow fever vaccine for travel to tropical South America and certain countries in sub- Saharan Africa. To obtain the proper documentation, travelers to these destinations must receive their vaccination from an authorized yellow fever vaccination clinic.

"When people get ready to travel, they should think not only about the vaccines for exotic diseases that they would only encounter in another country, but also about diseases that we have eradicated with vaccines but that are still prevalent around the world," Stephens says. "They should make sure routine immunizations are current-for example, a tetanus shot administered within the last 10 years and a second measles vaccine for anyone born after 1957." 

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