Traveling Abroad? Plan Ahead to Avoid Sickness


safariPlanning a trip to South America to visit family? Perhaps an adventure awaits on a safari in Africa? Or are the palm trees and white sandy beaches in the Caribbean calling your name? If you are traveling abroad, talk to your health care provider to find out how you can lessen your chances of becoming ill.

It’s important to review your vaccination history with your physician. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that if you are planning to travel, review the vaccines below with your health care provider at least four to six weeks before travel begins. Here’s why:

  • Some vaccines can’t be given at the same time as others.
  • Some require more than one dose.
  • Some must be given as much as one month before travel to be protective.

The Primary Vaccine Series

Review your immunization history with your health care provider and be sure that infants and children are on schedule with their vaccine series.

Adults should have completed the primary series of all childhood vaccines. A booster of the adult tetanus-diphtheria (Td) is recommended every 10 years. If an adult has not yet received a tetanus booster containing the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine known as Tdap, he or she should receive that vaccine instead of a Td booster alone.

What additional vaccines are recommended?

The following is a list of vaccines to be considered:

  • A yearly influenza (flu) vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older.
  • Two pneumococcal vaccines are also recommended for people 65 years or older and for other people at high risk (e.g., those with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, etc.).
  • Infants, children, and adults traveling to one of the few countries where polio is still active, and staying for more than 4 weeks, should get age-appropriate polio vaccines or a polio booster before travel.
  • Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) status should be documented. Two doses of the vaccine are recommended for people born after 1956.

What other vaccinations may be needed?

  • Yellow fever vaccination may be required for travel to several countries in Africa and is recommended for certain areas in South America.
  • Hepatitis A vaccine (or immune globulin – IG) is recommended for travelers to all areas where there is significant risk of hepatitis A, even for travelers staying in urban areas and luxury hotels in those regions.
  • Typhoid vaccine is recommended for travelers spending time in areas where food and water precautions are recommended, including South Asia (which has some drug-resistant forms), Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
  • Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for people traveling to sub-Saharan Africa during the dry season (from December to June), and is required for visitors to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj.
  • Hepatitis B immunization should be considered for people who will be in an area where high rates of hepatitis B exist, especially if close contact, particularly involving medical services. This includes Asia, Africa, some areas of the Middle East, the islands of the South and Western Pacific, some areas of South America, and certain areas in the Caribbean (such as the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Children who have not received this vaccine previously should do so.
  • Japanese encephalitis vaccine should be considered by those undertaking long-term travel or residence (greater than one month) in areas of high risk, including rural pig-farming and rice-growing areas.
  • Rabies vaccination may be needed if you will be in unprotected rural outdoor areas where rabies is common and may be exposed to wild animals.
  • Currently, the risk for cholera is very low for people visiting areas with epidemic cholera when simple precautions are observed, including drinking and using safe water, cooking foods safely, and thorough hand-washing.
  • Travelers to countries with malaria are advised to take anti-malarial medication. However, none of the anti-malarial medications are completely effective, and travelers in areas of risk must also use personal protective measures including:
    • Using insect repellent, and clothing with long sleeves and long pants impregnated with permethrin spray
    • Sleeping in a mosquito-free setting (behind screening) or using an insecticide-treated bed net.


Travel Health Services has infectious disease specialists and nurse practitioners who provide you personalized counseling on necessary precautions, immunizations, medications and medical care for travel-related illnesses.

Prepare for Illness if Traveling Abroad – Health tips to help you prepare for medical care. Excellent websites on international travel also include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  and the World Health Organization.

Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad – Site provides services offered by U.S. embassies and consulates, insurance coverage and more.

Join the Conversation. Where are you or your family members traveling this year?

  4 comments for “Traveling Abroad? Plan Ahead to Avoid Sickness

  1. May 17, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I am travelling to South America for the first time at the end of this year. I still need to get the vaccines. I’m currently hoping they will either develop a vaccine for the zika virus or prove that the zika virus is not dangerous.

    • May 17, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Have a great trip!!!! Not sure where you live, but the UMass Memorial Travel Clinic would be a great resource for information and vaccines. Just call 855-UMASS-MD.

      • May 17, 2016 at 3:25 pm

        Thank you! An thanks but I live in the Netherlands. I think I’ll ask a doctor :).

        • Anonymous
          May 30, 2016 at 10:13 pm

          Hello Melissa,
          What part of Netherlands that you live?

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