Far-Off Adventures – Vaccination and Foreign Travel

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The time has finally arrived for the highly anticipated trip out of the country. The plans began long ago: airplane tickets, hotel reservations, rental car, sightseeing plans. The bags are being pulled from the attic to be packed, and the excitement mounts with each passing day. Everything is a go.

But wait – what about vaccines?

Is this one more preparation that needs to be added to the "To Do" list? Traveling out of the country can feel like a venture to another planet. Pictures of exotic destinations coupled with new, curious foods dance off the pages of the travel brochures. Anticipating the unexpected can be a challenge for even the most seasoned traveler. However, traveling with children adds an extra dimension to the anxiety-the thought of your child becoming ill in a foreign country is extremely frightening. Your doctor is recommending a variety of vaccines. Are they necessary? How do you evaluate the risks?

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that is spread through contact with blood. In the US, Hepatitis B is primarily found in adults, and is spread through intimate contact or through sharing needles used with illicit drugs. Hepatitis B is more common in the general population in East and Southeast Asia and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Still, the risk of long-term complications is much less than we are generally led to believe. More than 95 percent of those who contract Hepatitis B fully recovered, and an infection will result in lifetime immunity for that person. Unless you plan to spend extended periods in close contact with infected persons, the risks of contracting Hepatitis B while traveling is extremely small.

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. The disease is seen primarily in children under five years of age; the initial symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs. Paralysis results in approximately 1 to 2 percent of children who contract the viral infection, though the vast majority recovers completely from this paralysis. A few, however, go on to have permanent, lifetime disability.
Polio is nearly eradicated. Once common throughout the undeveloped world, as of February, 2006, only four countries still report isolated outbreaks: Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, there have been no cases of wild polio in the Western Hemisphere since 1991.

Polio vaccination of children continues in the US, with 5 doses given prior to entering school, (1) reasoning that until polio is completely eradicated entirely, the risk of reintroducing polio into this country is "only a plane ride away." However, an examination of the data reveals only six cases of imported polio documented between 1980 and 1998, the last in New York City in 1993. (2) The risk for contracting polio at home is negligible; the risks overseas are nearly the same.

Tetanus is an acute, spastic paralytic illness caused by a toxin released from the bacterium Clostridium tetani. The bacterium is found in soils and animal feces …