The truth about travel vaccinations

Vaccinations are an important part of any planning when travelling abroad, whether it’s for a short business trip to Europe or an around-the-world adventure. Advice and information from different places can sometimes make it difficult to decide between fact and fiction, so what’s truth and what’s fiction?

1. Travel in Europe does not require any vaccination

A weekend trip to a European city has become so popular that it may feel little different to travelling across the UK, so you may think that travel vaccinations are not required. Europe is a diverse continent and different vaccinations are recommended based on individual circumstances, as well as on the country that is being visited.
The Hepatitis A vaccination is routinely recommended for most people visiting some Eastern European countries. Since an outbreak of the virus across Western Europe, which started in June 2016, it may also be recommended more widely, particularly for men having sex with men. Hepatitis A is a liver infection that is spread by the poo of an infected person. It is most often spread through contaminated food or water, close contact with an infected person or having sex with someone.

2. I didn’t need any vaccinations last time I went

Vaccinations may be recommended depending on what activities you are going to be doing, the time of year of travel, the area of the country you are visiting, the length of stay or the general health of the traveller. It is important to get personalised advice from a reputable travel clinic for every trip.

3. I am not undertaking any activities that might put me at risk

When travelling outside of Europe, even staying in a modern hotel, you may still be exposed to many diseases. Hotel sanitation may also not be up to standard and even the cleanest air-conditioned hotels may still not be able to keep out insects which carry disease. Many diseases are spread through contaminated food or water, simple tasks such as someone not washing their hands when preparing food could pass an illness onto you. With 11.6m UK travellers visiting friends and family in 2016, such trips can be more remote or involve longer stays, increasing your likelihood of picking up an infection.
The nature of being on holiday means that we relax and lose our inhibitions a little, more so if we drink even moderate amounts of alcohol. Hepatitis B is an infection that affects the liver and is passed through bodily fluids such as, having unprotected sex, needles, tattooing, body piercing or even acupuncture.

4. I am fit and healthy and rarely get ill

As an otherwise healthy adult, you may feel that your immune system is strong enough to help you recover from illness with a few days’ rest. Recovery from some diseases can take several weeks, even months and may have further complications. During this time you may pass the infection onto others, and often will be unable to work or carry out the social activities you enjoy. This is even more important for diseases which can cause very serious illness and have poor survival rates.

In the case of Yellow Fever, half of those who contract the virus and develop symptoms may die within 7 to 10 days. Rabies needs urgent treatment, and is usually fatal once symptoms appear, the vaccination allows sufficient time to get further treatment if bitten by an infected animal.

5. I would prefer not to be vaccinated

Many countries ask for evidence of some vaccinations before allowing entry such as yellow fever or meningitis ACWY. It is also very important to remember that access to healthcare abroad, even if fully insured, will be the same as that available to the local population. Healthcare may be difficult to access if you are in a remote location.

The best protection against such diseases is to receive the recommended course of vaccinations specific to your own travel needs. This may be different to what was recommended for you 12 months earlier when visiting the same destination, or possibly even different from a friend that may be travelling with you on this occasion. Your own vaccination history will also determine if you need a primary course of vaccinations or a booster dose.

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