As an American, the thought of catching a communicable disease rarely crosses my mind due to my country’s high standard for public health. That standard is not nearly as high in many other countries and there is a risk of contracting a communicable disease from other people, food, or animals when traveling abroad. That is the reason why I ALWAYS get vaccinated against any diseases that may be endemic to a country that I plan to visit before I travel. Bear in mind that this advice isn’t just for families but single travelers as well.
How To Research What You Need
When we are preparing for a trip to country we haven’t been to before, we always look up the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for travel to that country and the World Health Organization (WHO) country status notes. See the respective links here and here.
Keep in mind that most vaccines must be administered two weeks prior to travel to allow your body to develop full immunity. So check out whether you need vaccines or not as soon as your travel plans are set (or even before they are set) and not at the last minute. Also, there are certain countries like Ghana for example, that will deny you entrance if you don’t have all the required vaccinations (that’s an expensive trip home simply for not getting vaccinated).
The CDC and WHO guidelines give us an idea of what we expect to hear from our doctors before we go to their offices to request vaccinations. It also gives you an idea of whether or not you feel it is worth it to take your child if they are too young to receive a vaccine or treatment. If this is the case, you would likely be better off waiting until they are old enough for the vaccination. But you can look at the country incidence rate too and see if it is a worry where you are going specifically or not. Most of the time, the large cities are the least likely places to get infections, while incidence in rural areas is much higher.
When we were considering Panama and Peru for example, we noticed that Yellow Fever was a concern in those countries and little J was too young for the yellow fever vaccine as he was under 2. However, it didn’t appear from the CDC site that it had any incidence in the regions we were going. Our doctor double checked for us and agreed: Yellow Fever is in the jungle regions only, not in the cities or touristy areas (Machu Pichu) where we would be. We triple checked again right before we left on the WHO incidence page and felt completely comfortable going with little J. In this case, none of us needed the vaccine.
Vaccines for Children
Traveling with a baby under one is tricky. Babies retain mothers antibodies for about the first six months of their lives if their mothers were fully vaccinated. This is the reason they can’t be vaccinated until they are one year old for the MMRV (Measles, Mumps, Rubella & Varicella). The mother’s antibodies interfere with the vaccination fully working until the mother’s antibodies are completely gone. But they also give the child immunity for about six months.
Bottom line for mothers: if you were vaccinated as a child, your child gets the immunity from the placenta before they are born. This lasts about six months. However the antibodies are completely gone at about one year, so at a year, most kids then get the MMRV with no problems. In some children, the residual immunities interfere with the vaccine (about 15%) so kids need a secondary booster at four.
From six to twelve months, the mother’s antibodies are weakened or gone, so if you are traveling with a child that age, talk with your pediatrician about giving your child an early dose of a required vaccine. In this case, your child will need three vaccinations of MMR rather than the standard two, as the immunity may not be able to fully develop at that point.
Seriously…Get Your Vaccines
I have traveled to over 40 countries now and have never been sick aside from a nasty bout of unpreventable amoebas because I was always properly vaccinated. But over the years, I have seen people contract yellow fever and typhoid in Africa that led to serious health problems later on. I have also seen children with deafness and severe brain damage due to measles and mumps in Asia. Please take the time to research communicable diseases before you travel to another country. Talk with your doctor and pediatrician (if you have kids) before you go, get the recommended vaccines and keep an eye on the WHO page just in case something changes. The long-term health of yourself and your family is worth it.