MCT graphic by Nease
Protection: The Department of Health can innoculate you and your family against risk of disease at your destination.
MCT graphic by Nease Protection: The Department of Health can innoculate you and your family against risk of disease at your destination.

School’s out and it’s time for your annual family vacation.

But are you and your children adequately covered for any health risks overseas?

It’s important to check what vaccinations and medication you may need before you head off on your travels.

At the Hamilton Health Centre, Government doctors and nurses will check your vaccination record against the requirements for the region you are travelling to.

They advise making an appointment at least two weeks — if not six weeks — prior to travel, especially during the summer months.

The Department of Health’s ‘Healthy Travel’ document lists the various diseases found in each region and the necessary precautions to take.

Carmelita Pitcher, registered nurse, said: “We give this information to people going away. It gives information on each disease, how it is caused and what the symptoms are.


“It also details how you can protect yourself. For example, for Hepatitis B there’s a series of three injections. For Hepatitis A, there are two shots of vaccinations.”

The Department of Health can also supply malaria tablets.

Mrs Pitcher said it was important to get protection against mosquito bites, particularly as in certain countries there is also the risk of yellow and dengue fever.

The travel clinic is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 2-4pm, at the Hamilton Health Centre. Its busiest times are in the lead up to Christmas, Easter and the summer holidays.

Mrs Pitcher said: “We will check whether you and your child’s vaccinations are up to date in your medical records and yellow vaccinations book.

“Try to book a consultation or appointment as early as you can.”

She added that it is now compulsory for any students heading to college overseas to have the meningococcal vaccine in order to prevent meningitis.

The most common vaccinations needed are: Tetanus; Measles;  Polio; Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

You may also need the Varicella vaccine if you have never had chickenpox.

Mrs Pitcher said: “Most children have the Hepatitis B series of shots at age seven, eight and 12 months old.

“But if you’re an adult and don’t have this inoculation for some reason, we can give you the series of shots.

“If you start the shots before you go, at least you will have the beginning of some immunity before you leave, and then you can complete the injections on your return.

“Once you have the series of three Hepatitis B shots you are immune for life.

“With Hepatitis A, you have to have two shots, six months apart. This provides immunity for 10 years.”

One Hepatitis A shot will also provide protection until you obtain a second injection on your return.


Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes and has the symptoms of a flu-like illness, with a fever and chills, aching muscles and headache. Symptoms occur seven to nine days after infection and can be life-threatening.

Use an extra strength insect repellent containing 30-35 per cent DEET. Try to sleep under a mosquito net and with air conditioning on, and wear protective clothing.

Examples of malaria pills are malarone, chloroquine, doxycycline and proquanil.

If you have an unexplained fever up to a year after travel, seek medical care immediately.

Hepatitis A

This is a virus which infects the liver and is spread though contaminated food and water, or by an infected person.

Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, nausea, aching muscles and dark urine.


An infection caused by bacteria invading the digestive tract. High fever, headache, body aches, cough, loss of appetite and diarrhoea are some of the symptoms.

Typhoid fever can be transmitted by contaminated food and water, or contact with an infected person. It is most common in the Indian subcontinent, Central and South America.

A typhoid vaccination will provide immunity for three to five years.

Yellow fever

Transmitted by mosquito bites. This causes flu-like symptoms, severe fever and discharge of blood. It can cause liver damage and can be fatal.

A yellow fever vaccine may be required prior to travelling to certain areas in Africa, Central and South America. It must be administered at least 10 days before travel and lasts for 10 years.

Dengue fever

Transmitted by mosquito, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. This mosquito bites during the day so take adequate protection.

Symptoms can appear four to seven days after the bite and include: High fever; severe headache; muscle and joint pain; nausea and vomiting. Seek medical attention immediately.


A rare but fatal disease caused by a virus in the saliva of an infected animal, and transmitted by bites.

Avoid wild and stray animals and seek medical care immediately if bitten, and wash the wound with soap and running water.

India is a higher risk destination.

Meningococcal disease

This bacteria can cause life-threatening meningitis and is most commonly found in areas of crowded living conditions, such as college dorms.

It can be spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include fever, intense headache, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck.

The vaccine is recommended for travellers going to Nepal, Saudi Arabia and certain areas of Africa.


Tetanus is caused by burns and ‘dirty’ wounds or punctures, ie. with rusty nails or accidents.

The infection leads to stiffness and muscular spasms, and can be fatal.

Diptheria is caused by bacteria infecting the skin or upper respiratory tract, and can be fatal. Symptoms include a sore throat, fever, nausea and chills.

This vaccine provides immunity for 10 years.


This is still present in areas of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Polio is a viral disease transmitted by contaminated food and water, or respiratory contact.

A polio booster vaccine is needed if travelling to an area of risk.

Altitude sickness

People travelling to heights of over 6,500 feet can get Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), caused by low oxygen levels to the brain.

Symptoms include a dull, throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, dizziness and insomnia.

It is recommended climbers start taking medication called Acetazolamide (Diamox) 24-48 hours before the climb.


Bacteria, viruses and/or parasites can cause diarrhoea, but it is also triggered by changes in diet.

Try to drink bottled or water boiled for one minute, use sterilizing tablets, and use purified water for brushing your teeth and rinsing your mouth/gargling.

Avoid ice in your drinks and milk in tea or coffee. Also avoid raw foods, salads, shellfish and unpasteurized milk and cheese.

Wash your hands with soap and water and take a hand sanitizer.

Medication includes loperamide (Imodium) tablets and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). Antibiotics from a doctor can also help in the event of an outbreak.

Seek medical care if you become very ill, have a fever or blood in your stools.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Blood can clot in a vein in your arm or leg, as a result of long periods of immobility, such as a long flight.

Get up and stretch your arms and legs regularly, with simple exercises.

Sun protection

Don’t forget to protect yourself from tropical sunshine. Avoid direct exposure to the sun from 11am-3pm and use a sunscreen of at least SPF 15. Apply it 15-30 minutes before exposure and reapply after swimming.


Carmelita Pitcher is a registered nurse (RN) for the Department of Health. To book an appointment with the travel clinic, call 278-6460.  Hamilton Health Centre, 67 Victoria Street, Hamilton. For more information see