Hate sharp, pointy objects wielded by masochist nurses? Yeah, so do we. However, here are some vaccines worth closing your eyes, gritting your teeth, and going under the needle for, all in the name of health and safety. Because even if you think there’s a very low risk of you being one of the unlucky people to get truly sick from one of these diseases, there is also the risk of you bringing the disease back home with you and unwittingly infecting someone else. Many of the diseases travelers get vaccinated against have been eradicated in their home countries – and you definitely don’t want to be the guy who brings Yellow Fever back to the U.S., do you? We didn’t think so. Buck up the courage, save your pennies, and get your shots.
Hepatitis A Vaccine
What Does It Do: Prevents Hepatitis A, a disease affecting the liver, causing high fever and abdominal pain for a period of 12 weeks. Infection results from the consumption of contaminated or dirty fruit, vegetables or water, and can be passed from person to person.
Who Needs It: Travelers going just about anywhere.
How Much Is It Going to Cost: $50-100. Lifetime coverage requires 2 shots, although one will work for 1-2 years.
Chances of Infection: It’s one of the more expensive, but highly recommended, vaccines. Travel to high risk areas (basically, most countries outside of Western Europe, Australia and the United States) without the vaccine is discouraged, as chances of infection are high. Those without the vaccine should avoid dirty or damaged food or contaminated water. However, this can be very difficult to do.
Alternatives and Other Notes: Hepatitis A has no cure.
Hepatitis B Vaccine
What Does It Do: Protects against Hepatitis B, a disease passed from person to person through bodily fluids. Symptoms are similar to those presented by Hepatitis A, with an equal recovery time.
Who Needs It: Anyone going anywhere.
How Much Is It Going to Cost: Series of three shots are required, for less than $50 a pop.
Chances: Not as high as Hepatitis A, but still no walk in the park to avoid the disease. Stay away from any piercing of the skin and for the love of all things good and holy, don’t you dare have unprotected sex! Try not to touch anyone – sweat will pass it along too.
Alternatives and Other Notes: Hepatitis B has no treatments. 10% of all sufferers will become chronic carries. Approximately 40% of the population has been effected with the disease. You’ll need to start receiving vaccinations months before you depart.
Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine
What Does It Do: Bad, bad things. Passed via mosquitoes in agricultural areas, this disease doesn’t show symptoms in 99% percent of its “victims.” However, the remainder must suffer through a disease that attacks your brain, affects your nervous system and kills you 30% of the time, causing brain damage in 50% of the survivors.
Who Needs It: Asia visitors, especially those in India.
How Much Is It Going to Cost: Quite a bit… Better stash away at least $200.
Chances: Low, low, low chance of infection – but oh, so nasty.
Alternatives and Other Notes: Cover up and cross your fingers that you aren’t one of the unlucky ones (seriously, the crossing-your-fingers routine is not recommended). Vaccination requires a three-dose disbursement over a six week time period.
Meningococcal Meningitis Vaccine
What Does It Do: Prevents meningitis, passed from person to person, especially through coughing. This is a particularly nasty bacteria which enters into your spinal cord tissue and causes fever, vomiting, rash, and often death.
Who Needs It: Africa travelers and those planning to be surrounded by lots of people.
How Much Is It Going to Cost: It’ll set you back $50-$100.
Chances: Many people carry this disease without knowing it, which increases your risk. When caught, the disease is fatal 50% of the time without treatment and still 10% of the time under a doctor’s care.
Alternatives and Other Notes: You can’t really do anything to avoid this one, unless you plan on walking around with a face mask all the time and avoiding people.
What Does It Do: Polio is passed through contaminated food and water, and can cause paralysis and even death.
Who Needs It: People going to India.
How Much Is It Going to Cost: Little
Chances: You probably aren’t going to get this disease, but for a low amount of money, it can result in a high peace of mind.
Alternatives and Other Notes: A single booster of your childhood shot will take care of you for the rest of your life, which has been virtually wiped out in a majority of the world. Shots and oral drugs are available.
Tick-borne Encephalitis Vaccine
What Does It Do: This tick-borne illness doesn’t do anything to most people. The unlucky 10% get stuck with the flu, and one out of ten of those people will come down with severe symptoms, which can result in death.
Who Needs It: Hikers, Campers, Woodsy Peeps
How Much Is It Going to Cost: A pretty penny
Chances: Pretty darn low
Alternatives and Other Notes: Avoid ticks. Meaning, avoid heavily forested areas and check thoroughly for ’em afterwards and be on the lookout for that “flu feeling.” DEET and skin coverings can do wonders as well.
What Does It Do: Although it only has a protection rate of 80%, the typhoid vaccines helps diminish the risk of this disease, contacted via contaminated food and water. Without antibiotics after infection, the disease is fatal is 10-20% of the time. Symptoms include fever, headache, weakness, and rash.
Who Needs It: Travelers venturing to areas where food and water contamination is a serious concern, such as Africa, Indian Subcontinent and parts of Asia.
How Much Is It Going to Cost: Relatively inexpensive.
Chances: Typhoid can be cured with antibiotics with early detection, and the antibiotics are effective 99% of the time. Still, the disease kills half a million people worldwide each year. If you suspect infection, see a doctor immediately.
Alternatives and Other Notes: Oral tablets or injections are available, with differing protection lengths.
Yellow Fever Vaccine
What Does It Do: Yellow fever is a disease with flu-like traits in its less-severe forms, but yellowing of the skin, Heptatitis, and internal bleeding in worse scenarios. Passed from disease-carrying primates via mosquitoes.
Who Needs It: Travelers visiting warm, tropical areas, both rural and urban; especially sub-Saharan Africa, the Amazon basin, and parts of Panama.
How Much Is It Going to Cost: Some serious dough.
Chances: Although your chances of infection are low, if you have multiple stops on your itinerary, your chances of having to show proof of vaccination before entry into another country are high.
Alternatives and Other Notes: Spray DEET like there is no tomorrow and cover up!
>> For more info on deciding which travel meds are best for you, check out Drug Trouble: The Travel Vaccine Debate.
>> To find out more about malaria, be sure to read our malaria information section – there are unique issues involved in dealing with malaria and anti-malarial drugs, and it pays to be well-informed.