You are off on holiday to somewhere exotic and the glossy pictures in the brochure are full of tropical beaches, sparkling pools and top-notch facilities. So there’s no need to worry about illness, right?
Everything looks so idyllic it’s hard to imagine you could contract something unpleasant. That’s why an alarming number of people fail to get properly vaccinated before they go on holiday.
Some people will get away with it, but the reality is that catching a tropical disease abroad can leave you seriously sick, or worse. A handful of injections can save you a whole lot of pain in the long run, so before you book your exotic getaway, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and brave the needle.
Where can I get vaccinated?
The National Immunisation Service Centre at Floriana Health Centre offers all the vaccinations you are likely to need. The clinic is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon and there is no need to make an appointment.
On your first visit, the staff will assess what vaccinations you need depending on the destination you intend to visit, and you can then buy the doses from any pharmacy for the medical staff at the centre to administer.
How much will it cost?
Most travel vaccines are not offered free of charge although there are certain exceptions for travellers such as voluntary workers or patients with chronic conditions.
A single dose of Hepatitis A and B combined vaccine will set you back around €45, but you are likely to need at least three in total. A combined Diphtheria and Tetanus vaccine costs around €35 and Typhoid costs €27.
Expenses for vaccines do mount up and you need to budget for them as part of your holiday but you only have to briefly imagine sweating through Yellow Fever in a remote cottage hospital to realise that it is a false economy to do without. Getting sick either abroad or when you get home can cost you dearly in terms of hospital treatment, lost days at work and inconvenience, not to mention the sometimes long-term costs to your health.
When to get vaccinated?
Some vaccines require more than a straightforward single injection. Hepatitis A and B, for example, usually require a course of two injections one month apart, and a further booster after six months. There are accelerated dose options though, so check with the Health Centre even if your departure is imminent.
There is a limit to how many injections you can have in one day, so if you need multiple vaccines, you need to ensure that you start thinking about travel vaccinations ideally at least two or three months before you go. The schedule for children may be different, so make sure the clinic is aware if the whole family needs vaccinating.
While the Health Centre is the best source of information for your specific trip, you can visit http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.htm to get an idea of how many injections you will require so that you can budget costs and timings.
For a safari in Kenya, for example, the website recommends that you are inoculated against Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Polio booster, Yellow Fever, Meningococcal (Meningitis) and Rabies if you are likely to be spending a lot of time outdoors in rural areas.
You also need to ensure you are up to date with the shots you should have received as a child, such as Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR), Diphtheria/Pertussis/Teta-nus (DPT) and Poliovirus vaccine.
Malaria is more than just a case of the chills – it can be a killer. Cerebral Malaria has a kill rate of 20 per cent even with intensive care treatment and it works fast. Even a milder strain of Malaria can leave you incapacitated for a long period of time. As the wife of someone who caught Malaria in Zambia more than once, I can attest that the symptoms of shivering, chills, severe aches in the muscles and headaches are extremely unpleasant and frightening.
Prompt treatment can generally deal with all but the most serious cases effectively, and in fact, treatment in the country of infection is likely to be very good given the high number of cases they see; in Europe, Malaria is often misdiagnosed.
Protection from Malaria comes from taking tablets and there is a wide variety on the market.
Chloroquine has traditionally been one of the most popular anti-Malarials, but many countries now have strains of Malaria resistant to Chloroquine, so you might need to look at the three other options:
Lariam, a more expensive option which can have side effects, particularly psychological, especially if taken over a long period of time; Malarone, one the newest drugs, which costs a small fortune but appears to be both effective and less likely to cause side effects, and Doxycycline, which can cause a reaction to the skin in the sun – not that handy if you are planning to do some sunbathing.
The cost and potential side effects pale into insignificance, however, compared with contracting the disease.
You also need to take precautions to ensure you are not bitten by mosquitoes in Malarial zones as no anti-Malarial is 100 per cent effective. Use an insect repellent with DEET, wear long sleeves and trousers and sleep under a mosquito net.
This will also help to protect you from Dengue Fever in some countries, which is known also known as ‘breakbone fever’ for a very good reason. There are no vaccines or tablets to ward this off.