Last week, I wrote about the process of getting my daughter, Ms. Smart, a passport so she could go on a mission trip to Guatemala. You can read about that here.
This week, I want to talk with you about the preparation for her trip – namely the vaccinations that were needed.
When Ms. Smart first asked to go on this mission trip to Guatemala , I was super nervous about the diseases that she would be exposed to down there. Being a nurse, those kinds of things are what stick out in my mind. (My husband is law enforcement … his concern was that people get robbed and kidnapped in places like that.)
We cant help it … it’s how we are programmed to think.
If you go to the Center for Disease (CDC) website, you can enter your destination and it will tell you all kinds of information about the country of your destination. This includes what vaccinations are required, suggested or just not of any concern for that area of the world.
So that’s exactly what I did. I looked up Guatemala on the CDC website and got a list of the vaccinations she needed. The list included:
1. Hepatitis A
2. Hepatitis B
5. Tdap or Tdap booster
6. Malaria treatment
I know for someone who isn’t in the medical field, these can be intimidating to understand. Heck…some of them are intimidating to me and I’ve been a registered nurse for 14 years. So I’m going to break them down for you one-by-one and make them easier to understand.
Here we go …
Hepatitis A is highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis virus. It causes inflammation that affects your liver’s ability to function properly. You could have the virus for several weeks before any symptoms appear. Some people never develop symptoms. If you do, they could include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain or discomfort, especially in the area of your liver on your right side beneath your lower ribs
- Clay-colored bowel movements/ diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
The Hepatitis A virus is generally spread when a person ingests a tiny amount of fecal matter from contaminated water or food. It can also be spread from someone who is already infected if proper hand washing isn’t occurring.
With that being said… adequate hand washing is the best, most effective way to prevent Hepatitis A. But for those times when you travel and your environment is going to be less than ideal … there is a vaccine.
The Hepatitis A vaccine is given in a 2 shot series with 6 months between injections. So, if you plan to travel somewhere that this vaccine is required/ recommended, you should plan far enough in advance to be given both doses.
Hepatitis B is also a liver infection caused by a hepatitis virus (different from the one that causes Hepatitis A). Hepatitis B is transmitted when blood, semen, or other body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. It can lead to serious illness like liver failure, cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.
Signs and symptoms of Hepatitis B may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark urine
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
As you can see, these are the exact same symptoms as Hepatitis A. If you develop symptoms, the only way to know which hepatitis virus you have been infected with is by having a blood test.
The best way to prevent Hepatitis B is to be vaccinated.
The vaccination is given in a 3 shot series. The first injection is given routinely to all newborns at birth. The second injection is given in 1-2 months from the initial dose. The third and last injection is given 6 months after the initial dose.
Booster shots of the vaccination are recommended with frequent travel and after each childbirth for female patients.
Typhoid (or typhoid fever) is a life-threatening illness caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi. Salmonella Typhi lives only in humans. It can usually be treated with antibiotics. A small percentage of people recover from typhoid fever but continue to carry the bacteria in their blood and intestinal tract. The Salmonella Typhi is shed from the carrier in the feces (poop).
You can get typhoid fever if you eat food or drink beverages that have been handled by a person who is shedding Salmonella Typhi or if sewage contaminated with Salmonella Typhi bacteria gets into the water you use for drinking or washing food.
Once the Salmonella Typhi have entered the digestive system via food or water, they multiply and enter the bloodstream. You will experience a sustained fever of 103° to 104°F. Other symptoms of Typhoid include:
- stomach pains
- loss of appetite
- rash with flat, rose-colored spots
The only way to know for sure if an illness is typhoid fever is to have samples of stool or blood tested for the presence of Salmonella Typhi.
If you are traveling to a country where typhoid is common, you should consider being vaccinated against it. You will need to complete your vaccination at least 1-2 weeks before you travel so that the vaccine has time to take effect.
Typhoid vaccines lose effectiveness after several years so it may be necessary to get a booster shot if you were previously vaccinated.
Rabies is a 100% preventable viral disease most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death. Early symptoms are similar to most other common illness like fever, headache, general weakness and discomfort. More specific symptoms develop as the disease progresses. They include:
- slight or partial paralysis
- hypersalivation (increase in saliva)
- difficulty swallowing
- hydrophobia (fear of water)
Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.
There is a rabies vaccine for 1) people whose activities bring them into frequent contact with possibly rabid animals or 2) international travelers who are likely to come in contact with animals in parts of the world where rabies is common.
As seen from this dosing schedule, you should plan to start this vaccine regimen at least 21 days prior to your intended travel date…plan accordingly.
Tdap stands for Tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. All three of these are serious diseases.
TETANUS (Lockjaw) causes painful muscle tightening and stiffness, usually all over the body. It can lead to tightening of muscles in the head and neck so you can’t open your mouth, swallow, or sometimes even breathe.
According to the CDC, tetanus kills about 1 out of 10 people who are infected even after receiving the best medical care.
DIPHTHERIA causes a thick coating to form in the back of the throat. It can lead to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis, and death.
PERTUSSIS (Whooping Cough) causes severe coughing spells, which can cause difficulty breathing, vomiting, and disturbed sleep. It can also lead to weight loss, incontinence, and rib fractures.
These diseases are caused by bacteria. Diphtheria and pertussis are spread from person to person through secretions from coughing or sneezing. Tetanus enters the body through cuts, scratches, or wounds.
Tdap vaccine can protect adolescents and adults from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. It is especially important for anyone having close contact with a baby younger than 12 months. It is recommended that you get a booster every 2-5 years depending on your circumstances.
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite, transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. People with malaria often experience fever, chills, and flu-like illness. All travelers to countries where malaria is present may be at risk for infection.
Based on the risk level of your destination, specific malaria prevention interventions should be used. Often this includes avoiding mosquito bites through the use of repellents or insecticide treated bed nets, and taking medicines to prevent malaria.
All recommended prevention medication regimens involve taking a medicine before, during, and after travel to an area with malaria. Beginning the drug before travel allows the antimalarial agent to be in your blood before you are exposed to malaria parasites.
There are several medications that could be prescribed for you to take. It is up to your primary care doctor or health department to decide which is best for you. I highly recommend that you educate yourself on whatever medication you are given. Some of them have some alarming side effects.
I hope this information has helped you better understand these diseases and how to prevent them. If it’s possible, preventing a disease or illness is always easier than having to be treated for it.
Remember … you can access the CDC website for information on your intended destination. And, you can refer back to this post if you need these vaccines and don’t understand what they are.
Happy and safe traveling this summer!!