Everyone likes travel sounviers. Except the tiny bacteria and viruses that might kill them. So in the interest of not killing off all my family and friends by some deadly disease that I might bring back from my trip to Kenya next month, I went to a travel clinic last month.
A travel clinic specializes in knowing what infectious diseases are prevalent in which parts of the world and having the
medications and vaccinations needed to prevent getting them. They set themselves apart from regular doctors in that they stock things like yellow fever shots, malaria pills and other items a normal doctor’s office isn’t going to have.
Most travel clinics are also authorized yellow fever centers in that they can give you both the yellow fever shot and the “yellow card”- a paper that shows that you’ve been immunized against yellow fever. Many countries in which yellow fever is prevalent require proof of vaccinations from travellers before letting them in. Other countries want proof of vaccination if you’ve been in a yellow fever country before visiting their country. The yellow card serves as that proof, so you’ll have to carry it around with you during your trip. I’ve paper clipped mine to the back of my passport.
My visit to the travel clinic took me about 45 minutes. It mostly involved the nurse walking me through what the health risks are in visiting Kenya; looking over my immunization history and giving me several shots for various things. I can’t say it was a completely painless visit. I hadn’t gotten any vaccinations since high school so I needed a lot of booster shots along with more exotic ones like yellow fever and Hepatitis A. I have no fear of needles, but by the fourth of five shots, my upper arm was really starting to feel a bit sore from all the shots. At least I didn’t experience any side effects beyond a bruise for a few days.
Going to a travel clinic isn’t difficult to do, but there’s some steps you can take to make the process smoother.
1. Do some research.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) is a fantastic resource for finding out what diseases are breaking out where and what the current yellow fever entry requirements are for each country. They also have a travel clinic finder for locating a clinic in the US. Also, knowing what you need before going into a clinic makes it easier to ask questions and prevent surprises during the visit.
2. Know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
It sounds obvious, but where you go and what you do will affect what you need. Recommendations on what you’ll need will vary depending if you’re staying in a major city or going out in the countryside or if you’ll be in close contact with animals. Other countries may have health requirements you may need to meet, even if you’re just in transit through them.
3. Have a copy of your immunization records.
It’s a bit difficult to figure out what you need if you don’t know what you already have. Also knowing the dates that you received your immunizations is helpful as some like tetanus need a booster shot every 10 years.
4. Check your health insurance.
Things like yellow fever shots are generally not covered by insurance. But if you’re behind on your regular immunizations, your health insurance may cover some or all of the cost.
5. Schedule an appointment at least a month before your trip.
Some malaria drugs need to be started a week or two in advance of entering a malaria zone. Some vaccinations may need to be given in a series over a couple of weeks or the body needs a couple of weeks to build up immunity first. Going in at least a month in advance ensures that you’ll have enough time to get everything you need. Even if you’re going on a last-minute trip, a stop to a clinic is still important as there are some drugs that can help you right away.
In the end, visiting the travel clinic was both necessary and reassuring for me. While I’ll still need to follow a lot of health precautions like not drinking the water while I’m there, I’m probably not going to come down with any major deadly diseases and more importantly not bring anything back with me that can infect others.