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Drug Trouble: The Travel Vaccine Debate

by BootsnAll

Even if you have health insurance and are buying extra travel insurance, that doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible to getting sick. After all, that mosquito carrying the yellow fever virus doesn’t know whether you have insurance, right? So before your big adventure, it’s important to know what travel vaccinations are recommended for the places you’ll be going. It’s even more important to be informed on this topic because travel vaccines aren’t cheap – and most people don’t have health insurance that will cover the full cost of travel vaccines, either.

Unfortunately, when many people go for a travel vaccine consultation with their family doctor they’re in for a shock – your regular physician may not know any more about malaria-resistant drugs than you do. The good news is that there are doctors who specialize in travel medicine, sometimes even working at dedicated travel medical clinics. The bad news is that you’re going to have to find one in your area. Once you do, however, you’ll have the benefit of an expert’s advice.

Keep in mind that while it’s a good idea to get the advice of a travel medical professional (not to mention gather information from other travelers as well as the various websites and books on the subject), you’ll still have some decisions to make for yourself. Here are some things to pay attention to when evaluating whether or not a vaccine is right for you.

  • Severity of Illness: If you get this disease, will it seriously harm, maim or kill you? Is there any cure? How long do symptoms last?
  • Chances of Illness: What are the chances of catching the disease? How does it vary from country to country? What can you do to diminish your chances of getting sick in the first place?
  • Effectiveness of Treatment: Are the drugs you’re contemplating effective in all the countries you plan on visiting or are some areas resistant? What are the chances of developing an illness even if you get a vaccine?
  • Cost: How much does the treatment cost? Is it worth spending $300 for a vaccine that prevents you against a illness that only affects .0001% of travelers?
  • Drug Side Effects: Do you suffer from any drug allergies? Is there a chance of a severe reaction to the drug or even the treatments for the disease?
  • Proximity to Adequate Health Care: Will you be traveling in big cities, with quick access to high quality health care, or will you be in a remote village, two days away via camel from the nearest poorly-equipped clinic?
  • Piece of Mind: Are you a worrywort who will fret that every cold means you have caught the Hanta Virus? Will your fear of disease ruin your trip? Can you accept what happens if you fall ill?
  • Personal Responsibility: How good are you at taking precautionary measures such as not having unprotected sex, not eating seafood, and not drinking the local water or consuming fruits and vegetables? Can you remember to cover yourself with bug spray every half hour?

Fortunately, there are a number of resources available on the web that can help you make some of these difficult decisions. In addition to BootsnAll’s Health Travel Guide and travel health discussion forum dedicated to the topic, check out the following:

  • CDC Travelers’ Health: The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has a page dedicated to information about travel health issues, including things to think about depending on where you’re going in the world, ways to prevent getting sick in the first place, and a directory of travel medical clinics around the United States.
  • Health Advice for Travelers: This is much like the CDC’s site for US travelers, only this one is put together by the British government. There’s all kinds of great travel health information here, including a section on access to healthcare abroad.
  • MASTA: Based in the U.K., the health library provides free information on diseases, health risks and safety and security. Of note is the listing of “special risk groups,” which includes information for women, children and diabetics as well as more niche groups like travelers with no spleen and those who travel to visit friends and family. Customized health briefs with information on up to 10 countries are also available, for a charge.
  • Travel Health: Although written for a British audience, the information on this site is applicable to most travelers. Information focuses on disease prevention, including alternatives to vaccines and medications. The site also provides general health travel advice, a short list of travel health-related news articles, and recommended links and books.
  • Travel Health Online: Travel Health Online provides destination and traveler information, as well as a list of travel medicine providers. You must register and consent to a user agreement to access the data, although it is free. The website also includes comprehensive information on travel advisories compiled from U.S., U.K., Australian and Canadian consular offices. Although the doctors listed on the site have not been evaluated for quality, many work in travel-specific clinics, where available (most common in large cities in western countries).
  • WHO International Travel and Health: The World Health Organization offers a downloadable book on “International Travel & Health” that covers a variety of dry-sounding (but important) subjects. Note that the book was written for medical professionals, so you may want a medical dictionary nearby to help you sort out the gobbledy-gook.

>> To find out more about your travel insurance options, call Dave, BootsnAll’s travel insurance expert – he can be reached toll-free in the US at 1-866-549-7614.