Do I need immunizations to travel overseas?
Get the scoop on immunizations before you travel abroad
A good question to ask if you're considering vacationing overseas is this: "Do I need immunizations to travel overseas?" Immunizations for overseas travel may be necessary, recommended, or optional, depending on your destination. "Routine" immunizations should be up-to-date, even if those diseases are mostly eradicated in the United States, because those diseases may still be a risk factor in other countries.
Necessary Immunizations for Overseas Travel
In some areas, you must have proof of particular immunizations in order to be admitted. Such requirements may be designed to limit the spread of deadly diseases from infected areas to noninfected areas. The yellow fever immunization is one example.
Some immunizations for overseas travel and vacations may only be necessary if you're stopping at certain locations before you get to your final destination. For instance, at the time of this writing, the yellow fever vaccination is not required for visitors to Bangladesh, unless they are coming from or stopping in locations where yellow fever is a problem before they arrive in Bangladesh.
Recommended Immunizations for Overseas Travel
Aside from necessary vaccinations, you may want to know which ones are recommended for the area you'll be traveling to. There are not a standard set of recommendations for all overseas destinations, but you can look up specific guidelines when you visit the CDC's destinations page, which is part of its information on travelers' health. Once you find your destination, you can view required and recommended vaccinations, current health risks, and healthy traveling tips.
Optional Immunizations for Overseas Travel
Recommended immunizations for overseas travel are optional in the sense that no one is requiring you to have them so you can, say, travel to South America. But the distinction here between recommended and optional is this: recommended immunizations are for anyone traveling anywhere in a particular country, and optional immunizations are based upon your itinerary (what region you'll be staying in, what activities you're likely to do, and so forth). The CDC will not place these in two categories called "recommended" and "optional," but the CDC will explain which immunizations are recommended in which situations, and you can distinguish from there.
Health care providers should also have the ability to look up information on your destination. They can help you determine if any personal conditions affect what vaccinations or medications you may need. So consulting with a nurse or doctor can be a helpful step in answering the question, "Do I need immunizations to travel overseas?"
Where to Get Immunizations for Overseas Travel
You can't always get the needed vaccinations at your local clinic or health department, especially less common vaccinations like yellow fever. If you wish, you may use the CDC's directory of travel clinics and authorized providers of the yellow fever vaccine. If you have researched which vaccinations you need, you can also call local clinics to see what they provide. If they can't provide the ones you need, they may be able to direct you to a clinic that can.
Other Common Health Considerations
"Do I need immunizations to travel overseas?" is not the only health-related question you should ask. Malaria is a common concern for travelers in South America, Africa, and Asia. Malaria can be deadly, but the medication can also have a host of negative side effects. You'll want to consult with your health care provider on this issue if malaria is listed as a risk for your destination.
Food- and water-borne illnesses are also a very common problem for overseas travelers. You may ask your health care provider about prescribing an antibiotic you can fill before you leave home and then self-administer if you detect signs of illness. If you go this route, make sure you get clear instructions on dosage and symptoms that could signal a bacterial infection.