Japanese encephalitis? No thanks

Immunization resources

The VNA's travel clinic administers international travel vaccines and helps travelers determine their risk of disease while traveling. For an appointment, call 879-1632.

The CDC provides information about vaccine recommendations and requirements as well as other travel health information at www.cdc.gov/travel or at 877-FYI-TRIP.

The World Health Organization also provides information about international health risks at www.who.org.>

It's that time of year again when palm trees, white sand beaches and temperatures above 70 degrees sound pretty nice to shivering residents in Northwest Colorado.

Whether planning a relaxing vacation or extended adventure, the last thing travelers want to think about is getting sick on their journey. Having the right immunizations, however, can mean the difference between an enjoyable getaway or extremely unpleasant and even deadly trip.

Determining which vaccinations are necessary and allowing the vaccinations to become effective takes time, so it's important travelers consider immunizations earlier rather than later, said Janice Poirot, a registered nurse at the Visiting Nurse Association.

Travelers "plan their trip for a year but don't plan to get their vaccines : That's very common," said Poirot, who administers a full range of travel vaccines as part of the VNA's travel clinic.

VNA staff started the clinic about seven years ago after noticing too many international travelers coming home with vaccine-preventable diseases. Part of Poirot's job is to help travelers determine which, if any, vaccines they need.

Information about recommended or required vaccines for international destinations is available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, www.cdc.gov/travel.

The wealth of information available on the site, however, can be overwhelming. Poirot sifts through details from the CDC and World Health Organization while discussing with the traveler their step-by-step itinerary, giving them a clearer picture of potential risks.

"The whole process is much, much easier," she said. "I'd say almost all travelers walk away feeling like it's well worth the visit."

Vaccinations are required, recommended or routine depending on a traveler's destination. Routine vaccinations are those such as polio, measles/mumps/rubella and tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis, which people in the U.S. should have even if they don't travel and especially if they do since some of these diseases are still common in other parts of the world.

Other vaccinations may include influenza, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, yellow fever, typhoid, meningococcal, pneumococcal, rabies and Japanese encephalitis. Most are recommended for certain places, with the exception of the Yellow Fever vaccination, which is required in some counties in sub-Saharan Africa and northern South America.

Often, a vaccination requirement isn't as much of an indication of risk as it is of a country's effort to protect its borders from neighboring outbreaks, Poirot noted.

What is an indication of risk is where travelers plan to be and what they will be doing. Poirot sees a lot of different types of travelers, including retirees vacationing, doing humanitarian work and adventuring around the globe.

Each person's risk is different: A traveler spending most of their time at a resort, for example, will have a lower risk of contracting hepatitis B than a person working in a clinic and being exposed to blood or body fluids, she said.

Travelers should visit a travel clinic or begin researching vaccines as soon as they have their general itinerary - at least one to two months before leaving - especially if they plan to visit a less-developed country or region.

While most vaccines are readily available, some, such as the yellow fever vaccine, can present delays. Because of a manufacturing problem, the vaccine is only available in 5-dose vials until April. Once a vial is open, it must be used quickly, so Poirot must organize a group of five people to receive the vaccine together.

Vaccines also take time to be effective. On average, a person should get vaccines at least a month before travel, though last minute vaccines still provide some degree of protection, Poirot said.

Travelers also should consider their malaria risk. There are various prevention medications available by prescription. Travelers can discuss their risk with Poirot before seeing a doctor for medication recommendations based on where they will be traveling.

Vaccinations vary in price. A typhoid vaccination, for example, is $50 while rabies immunization involves three shots at $165 each - a small price to pay in comparison to the cost of getting very ill.

Travelers should do their best to keep track of their vaccination records, which can make their visits to the travel clinic easier. Travelers heading to a country with a vaccination requirement will need to carry proof of that vaccination or an International Certificate of Vaccination card with their passport.

Tamera Manzanares can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com.

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