The World Health Organization reported last month that Europe experienced 34,000 measles cases in just the first two months of this year. Of those, 25,000 cases were in Ukraine, and 13 people died of the disease. But outbreaks have afflicted other nations on the continent as well. Germany has seen more than 300 cases so far this year and there is enough alarm that the prime minister has proposed a hefty fine on parents who fail to vaccinate against the disease.
By late March, more than 23,000 measles cases had been reported in the Philippines, where more than 300 people have died of the disease. More than 3,000 have been sickened by the disease in Israel, where two people have died and two more have been in comas due to measles encephalitis.
It’s the time of summer travel – which means it’s also a particularly important time to ensure that you are vaccinated against diseases that could be picked up in foreign lands. And this year, measles is a particularly problematic threat. Not only can the unvaccinated make themselves sick, but they can bring the disease back to the United States. In fact, that’s how cases occur in this country, where the disease is no longer endemic. It was travelers to Israel who brought measles to Brooklyn, N.Y., where the largest recent outbreak in this country has occurred, involving hundreds of cases.
“Each year, unvaccinated travelers get measles and bring it home. This has sometimes led to outbreaks,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions on its website. “The majority of measles cases brought into the United States come from U.S. residents who were traveling abroad.
Now is the time to check on the vaccines you and your family might need for summer travel. It can take vaccines some time to become effective and you want your protection in place before you get to the airport.
Although the measles threat is the newest concern, travelers to various countries still need to find out about specific vaccinations recommended for their specific destinations. Depending on where you go, you might not need any vaccinations – or you could need a long list of them for diseases that are rare to nonexistent in the United States. For example, trip to India might call for immunization against typhoid, cholera and Japanese encephalitis as well as medication to prevent malaria. Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for travel to Israel.
Unsure what’s needed for your travel plans? No problem. The CDC provides a detailed, thorough yet easy-to-use destination guide for travelers. You can click on your destination and then check off which health issues pertain to you. It then gives you a list of the vaccinations that most travelers fitting that description need for that destination, and an additional list for those that only some travelers to that area need. It also explains why each one might be needed.
What many travelers tend to overlook, however, is that they need to be vaccinated against more than the illnesses that are specific to other areas; they also need to ensure that they are up to date on the routine shots on the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule.
Diphtheria, for example, which has been all but wiped out in the United States, is still endemic to several foreign nations. Protection against the disease is included in the same vaccine that protects against tetanus and whooping cough. Hepatitis A is far more common in many other countries than it is here, and the vaccine is recommended for many destinations.
You might not even think of flu vaccination because flu season recently ended in the Northern Hemisphere – but it’s just about to get started in Australia and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere.
“People who have not gotten a flu vaccine for the current season and are traveling to parts of the world where influenza activity is ongoing should get a flu vaccine to protect themselves during their trip,” the CDC says on its website. It reminds travelers that the vaccine requires two weeks to take effect.
If you haven’t already, check the CDC site and check in with your doctor. Travel safe. Come home with great selfies and without a contagious, vaccine-preventable disease.