Since I'm heading to South Africa in just a few weeks, I want to be sure I'm covered when it comes to my health. After all, much of my time will be in rural areas. Health insurance is all very well, but an ounce of prevention is even better.
If you're heading somewhere off the beaten path, I highly recommend that your first step in your travel health planning be the CDC Travelers' Health website. This is the same site that my GP and my travel specialist both use for checking up to date health risks. The site allows you to search by country or by illness, check vaccinations, and pick up general information on everything from insect bites to yellow fever.
Next stop was my regular GP. I am already up to date on my tetanus, but she recommended shots for Hepatitis A and B. Although both require a six month follow up shot, which I will get in June, she decided it was better to have some protection from the preliminary shots than none at all.
|A shot now can save a lot of trouble down the road.|
For my other shot information, I paid a visit to the University of Kentucky Travel Clinic. The amount of information I got here was staggering; the physician provided information on shots, sunscreen, insect bites, food, public safety, even where to change currency. As it happens, I didn't require anywhere near as many shots as I expected. Since I am flying directly to South Africa and not passing through any other African counties, I do not need to be vaccinated against Yellow Fever. We decided the rabies shots are incredibly expensive and probably unnecessary. (The local Health Department offers great treatment in the event of exposure.) So that just left Typhoid, and instead of a vaccine which offers 2 years of protection, the oral preventive is cheaper and offers 5 years of protection. I completed my course last week (just one pill every other day for 4 doses).
I also have anti-malaria pills (recommended for the region I am visiting) and a course of antibiotics (just in case). My original malaria Rx was for Larium but the doc at the travel clinic changed that. It turns out that Larium is no longer used by the state department or the military as it can have some nasty side-effects and there are a host of contraindications if it is used with any other meds. It could have potentially serious side effects because of another medicine I take. Luckily, the doc caught that and wrote a different prescription.
What other advice did I pick up from the travel clinic?
- Given my fair skin, a sunscreen of minimum 30SPF.
- A mosquito repellent containing at least 30% DEET. (I am usually an open buffet for mosquitos).
- No swimming or wading in water unless its safety can be GUARANTEED.
- No bare feet. The doc cautioned me that even flip flops offer little real protection against potential parasites that can enter through the skin.
- Be careful with the water. This also applies to ice cubes in drinks and salads. Just a few weeks earlier, the doc had seen a patient with a severe infection. She insisted she had not drunk the water during her trip to Kenya, but it didn't occur to her that the ice cubes in her coke were...water.
If it sounds a little paranoid to be taking all these precautions, think again. I now feel secure in the knowledge that my trip is unlikely to be marred by severe illness. Furthermore, the typhoid and hepatitis vaccinations will last for years to come.
So if you want to get sick on vacation, skip the shots, skip the pills, and skip the common sense. While you're rushing for the loo for the umpteenth time, I'll be enjoying the scenery.