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Travel health: Immunisations and prevention

Even before you consider packing your suitcase and cancelling the papers, if you're planning to travel abroad, you need to think about health insurance and vaccinations.

Vaccinations for travel

Check with your doctor, or a private travel health clinic, as soon as possible to find out if you need any vaccinations or antimalaria tablets for your trip. They will have the very latest advice and information.

Almost one in four UK holidaymakers don't get any vaccinations despite travelling to areas that have life-threatening infectious diseases.

Below are some of the most common diseases for which vaccines are available. Without vaccination these diseases can cause anything from fever and diarrhoea to paralysis and death.

Cholera - Infection occurs through ingestion of food or water contaminated directly, or indirectly, by faeces or the vomit of infected individuals. Cholera occurs mainly in poor countries with inadequate sanitation and lack of clean drinking-water and in war-torn countries where the infrastructure may have broken down. A vaccine is available to protect against cholera given in two doses to adults and children over 6 years old.

Hepatitis A - is usually transmitted through contaminated food and water. Travellers are at greatest risk when they visit rural areas with low levels of hygiene and sanitation in resource poor countries. Hepatitis A vaccine is available separately or combined with a hepatitis B vaccine.

Hepatitis B - is transmitted from person to person through exposure to infected blood or bodily fluids. Sexual contact is an important mode of transmission but infection is also transmitted by transfusion of contaminated blood, or by use of contaminated needles for injections, or by using contaminated equipment for drug misuse. There is also a potential risk of transmission through other skin-penetrating procedures, including acupuncture, piercing and tattooing. The risk of hepatitis B varies, but infections are found throughout the world. The lowest risk is in northern Europe. Hepatitis B vaccine is available separately or combined with a hepatitis A vaccine.

Flu ( influenza) - The flu season happens at different times to ours in different places around the world. Flu affects the northern hemisphere from November to April and the southern hemisphere from April to September. In tropical areas there is no clear seasonal pattern, and influenza circulation is year-round.

Travellers visiting countries in the opposite hemisphere during the flu season may find they need a flu jab. In years in which the northern and southern hemisphere flu vaccine strains differ, high-risk individuals travelling from one hemisphere to the other shortly before or during the other hemisphere’s influenza season should obtain vaccination for the opposite hemisphere at least two weeks before travel.

Japanese encephalitis - is caused by a virus which is spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. The disease occurs in parts of Asia. Risk to short-term travellers to Asia, especially if they stay in urban areas, is low but risk increases for those who plan to live or travel for long periods of time in infected areas especially if they visit rural areas during transmission season. The incidence of Japanese encephalitis in humans varies by country and is usually seasonal, coinciding with the rains. Two to three doses of vaccine are needed before travelling.

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