Vaccine Before Vacation: Staying healthy this summer

By Barrett White

My family didn’t travel much when I was a child, we simply couldn’t afford it. But when we could afford a weekend adventure away from home, we would pile in the car and drive out to New Orleans, Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio. We never worried much about travel vaccinations, because these destinations were nearby and within the United States. But what if you’re visiting Mexico or Central or South America this summer? Houston is a large, international destination with thousands of travelers coming and going daily, so what precautions should you take?

The CDC recommends getting travel vaccinations at least a month before setting out on your trip, but even if you’re a last minute traveler, there are ways to ensure you stay healthy while you’re out and about.

We checked in with Dr. Anusha Govind at Legacy’s Montrose clinic about what precautions you should take before hitting the road or boarding that flight. There are many ways one could fall ill while visiting a Central or South American country, especially if you haven’t been there before, or haven’t been in a long time. These include foodborne illnesses, disease carried by mosquitos, and even STIs.

  • Hepatitis A & B: “Make sure you’re up to date on your Hepatitis A and B vaccines,” Dr. Govind says. “Hepatitis A is very common in Central and South America.” The disease is foodborne, and could be contracted by consuming infected foods. Eating from local restaurants and cafes or from street vendors could increase your chance of contracting this communicable disease. The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get vaccinated.
  • Typhoid: While typhoid is rare, it does still happen. It is recommended that travelers avoid drinking untreated water to prevent typhoid. Ensure that bottled water is new and sealed before consuming, and even if water at a restaurant is filtered, many times the water used for ice is not. Dr. Govind recommends asking for water without ice. Drinking soda may be preferable if you are unsure if the water has been properly filtered and treated.
  • Malaria, Zika, and Dengue: Malaria is a common mosquito-borne virus in the region. People with malaria often experience fever, chills, and flu-like illness. If left untreated, malaria could be fatal. While there is not currently a zika outbreak in Central and South America, there have been cases reported, so it is best practice to prevent contracting the disease. Dengue has no vaccination, so like the other mosquito-borne illnesses in this bullet point, it’s best to prevent mosquito bites to prevent infection. Dr. Govind recommends taking DEET insect spray with you, or treating your clothing with permethrin (do not apply permethrin to the skin).
  • Animal-borne sicknesses: Animals can carry many diseases. It is recommended that if you are traveling to another country that you not handle animals.
  • Sexually transmitted infections: If you’re out of town, it is highly recommended that you practice safe sex to prevent contracting an infection.
  • Measles: What if you’re not visiting family in Central or South America, or visiting that region at all? Perhaps your family is like mine was, and plans to take a weekend trip to somewhere nearby here in the States? Dr. Govind suggests ensuring that you’re vaccinated for measles, which is currently flaring up here in Texas, and elsewhere in the U.S.