What health leaders want you to know before traveling this holiday


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — If you’re getting ready to go on vacation for the holidays, there’s one more thing you should get in order before boarding a flight.

“In addition to your plane tickets and everything you’re going to pack, is where you’re going and what vaccines or special precautions you might want to take,” Marshall Vogt, the Division Epidemiologist for the Virginia Department of Health, said.

Vogt says you may become ill while you’re traveling or when you get back if you don’t prepare ahead of time.

The Centers for Disease Control have resources online showing what vaccines are necessary for different countries. Vogt suggests you also reach out to your doctor or a physician that specializes in travel medicine to see what you need to do to get ready – the sooner the better.

“[You need] a couple of weeks to really respond to that vaccine and to work with its immune system to build immunity to whatever you’re vaccinated for before you reach kind of that optimum level of protection,” Vogt said. 

One of the vaccines people typically have to get is for Hepatitis A. You can get it from contaminated food or water or from close contact with a person or object that’s infected with it.

“That is going to protect you, in some places where food is not going to be cooked like it is here in America – there’s a higher risk for Hepatitis A,” he said.

Hepatitis A affects the liver and is highly contagious, but according to the Mayo Clinic the body clears itself of the virus on its own. 

Usually, it takes about six months for the liver to fully heal.

Vogt says people also typically get shots for Yellow Fever, which is transmitted through mosquito bites.

“It’s actually required for entry into some countries. So it’s very important to check well before you plan to go on your trip,” he added.

There are cases of Zika, another mosquito-borne illness, still being reported after travelers return to the U.S. One Virginian reportedly contracted it this year after a trip to one of the areas affected by the illness, according to the health department and CDC.

“Pregnant women should not travel to areas with active Zika risk and partners of pregnant women, as well as couples considering pregnancy, should understand the risks Zika poses to pregnancy and take advised preventative steps,” Caroline Holsinger, the Director of the Division of Environmental Epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health. “You may protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites by using EPA-registered insect repellent and wearing loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants in light colors.”

There’s so specific treatment for Zika, but Holsinger says healthcare providers may recommend “supportive care,” like resting or taking extra fluids.

When talking to a doctor about vaccines, Vogt says to make sure you’re up to date on all of the shots you got during childhood. For example, the measles vaccine. Currently, there are outbreaks of the illness in Greece, Israel, Italy and number of other countries.  

“You might be going to these countries with large measles outbreaks and there’s a higher risk that you’re going to be in contact with people who have measles while here in the U.S. measles is very rare,” he added.

You’ve all seen them – those cute pictures people post of their travels, feeding animals. Health leaders say you should think twice before doing it.

“Even on the street somewhere you may have a [stray] dog or a cat or a puppy that you might want to pet or take a picture with or a monkey you want to feed something to. There’s a risk there for rabies that people need to be aware of,” Vogt said.

Some countries have different regulations on rabies treatments for animals. Health department officials say one Virginian died a few years ago after she was bitten by a dog that had the illness while traveling. Rabies is treatable and animals in the U.S. also get vaccines for it.

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