Getting medicated and vaccinated

Posted on October 1st, 2013 by BreAnn

Here’s one page of my vaccination card… I had to get many, MANY shots!

James and I had to get A LOT of vaccinations (shots) before we left the US so that we could stay safe and healthy on our travels to all these different countries around the world. It’s actually a bit insane just how many crazy vaccines we have circulating throughout our bodies at the moment: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertusis, Meningococcal, and Polio. Sheesh!  But what does this all mean? What exactly are these vaccines (and diseases) and why do we even have to get shots in the first place?  Well read on . . .

Remember when you were a little kid and you screamed your head off when the doctor came at you with a HUGE (or so you thought) needle, and shot you full of the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine?  OK, maybe not. But you’ve heard of this practice, or maybe you’ve gotten a seasonal flu shot in your arm in the past few years. Either way, the point is: vaccinations, or shots, are given to us as children and adults to protect us against diseases and viruses that our bodies cannot naturally fight off on their own.

Hooooray, we’re traveling around the world! But wait… are we safe from diseases?

The INTERESTING thing that you may not realize is that when you are given a vaccination, the fluid that is injected into your body actually contains a small amount of the disease itself!  That’s right, folks!… so if you go out there this year to get your annual flu shot, they are actually GIVING you the flu virus in that needle!  Sounds crazy, but vaccines work by triggering the immune system to produce its own antibodies (substances produced by the body to fight off sicknesses) against disease, as though the body has been infected with it. Once a person receives the vaccine and his or her body has adjusted and learned to fight off the “bad germs,” they are now protected against that infection/virus/disease in the future. If the vaccinated person then comes into contact with the virus itself, their immune system will recognize it and immediately produce the antibodies they need to fight it off. Voila… you are SAFE from disease!

Since the US is a pretty westernized and clean country, we often do not need to get vaccinated for many serious diseases… but there ARE probably a lot more shots given to our kids and teens now than you may know about or remember from back in the day when you got yours as a child. These include measles & mumps, chicken pox, tetanus & whooping cough, and nowadays teens are being vaccinated for HPV as well.

Delicious food… but could there be a chance it might be contaminated with Typhoid or Hepatitis A!?

For James and I, we were planning to spend 2013 traveling all over the world including Asia and Africa, so it was absolutely necessary to get many more vaccinations to keep us safe. Many countries around the world have a lot more diseases than we do in the US… for example, in most Asian countries it is recommended to get vaccinated against Polio, Japanese Encephalitis, Meningococcal, Hepatitis A and B, and Typhoid. The same vaccinations are recommended for Africa, plus additional coverage for Yellow Fever and Malaria.

So away we went to the travel vaccination clinic in LA! Fortunately, I had gotten some of these vaccines a few years ago for my trip to Peru, so I didn’t have to get as many this time around. But unfortunately for James, he had to get ALL of these shots within a few months before our trip!!

Below is a list of all the lovely vaccinations that are now circulating throughout our bodies:

Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is a serious liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A virus, which is most commonly spread by close personal contact and sometimes by eating food or drinking water containing the virus. James and I both got a series of 2-3 shots over a six month period… and are now protected against the disease for approximately 20 years!

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease caused by the Hepatitis B virus, which is spread through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person. Again, James and I both got a series of 2-3 shots over a six month period… and are now protected against the disease supposedly for our ENTIRE LIVES!

Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever is a serious disease found in certain parts of Africa and South America, and is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito.  Since we plan to visit many countries in Africa including some jungle/forest areas where mosquitos reside, it was most important that we received this vaccination!!  This vaccine will cover us for 10 years.

Hmmm… Typhoid Fever prevention. Very interesting 🙂

Typhoid fever is a serious disease caused by a bacteria called Salmonella Typhi, most commonly ingested by drinking or eating contaminated food or water.  It is found in areas all over South America, Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. James and I both took the oral tablet form of the vaccine, which will protect us up to 5 years. If we had taken the shot/syringe form of the vaccine, it would only cover us for 2 years.

Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis)
The Tdap shot is a combo of three different vaccines: Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (whooping cough.)  Tetanus is a much more commonly known disease/vaccination, as YOU ALL have gotten the shot in the past (think: cut by a rusty nail!) The tetanus disease causes painful muscle spasms, lockjaw, and can cause death, and it enters the body through cuts, scratches, or wounds. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, Pertussis is better known as Whooping Cough, and both of these are caused by bacteria spread from person to person. This Tdap vaccine lasts for 10 YEARS– and if YOU haven’t personally gotten this shot in the past 10 years, make sure to ask your doctor to give it to you the next time you are in for your normal checkup!

I often got attacked by mosquitos in Southeast Asia… but perhaps I avoided getting Japanese Encephalitis since I had the vaccine in my body already?

Japanese Encephalitis
Japanese encephalitis is a viral disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes and causes inflammation of the membranes around the brain. It occurs mainly in rural parts of Asia, and has continued to linger and spread over the past 20 years in a big part due to intensification and expansion of irrigated rice production systems in South and South-East Asia. The flooding of the rice fields at the start of each cropping cycle leads to an explosive build-up of the mosquito population. About 1 person in 4 with encephalitis dies, and of those who don’t die, up to half may suffer permanent brain damage!! The vaccine was given to us as a 2-dose series, one month apart, and should cover us for 3 years.

Meningitis is a serious bacterial illness that causes the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. Meningitis may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but meningitis can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs. Meningococcal disease is still a worry in the US, as about 1,000-1,200 people get it each year! Even when those infected are treated with antibiotics, 10-15% of these people die, and of those who live, another 11-19% lose their arms or legs, have problems with their nervous systems, become deaf, or suffer seizures or strokes! James and I each got one shot of Meningococcal, and we should be covered for 3- 5years.

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus that lives in the throat and intestinal tract. It is most often spread through person-to-person contact with the stool of an infected person and may also be spread through oral/nasal secretions. Polio used to be very common in the United States and caused severe illness in thousands of people each year before polio vaccine was introduced in 1955. Most people infected with the polio virus have no symptoms; however, for the less than 1% who develop paralysis it may result in permanent disability and even death. Children in the US usually get vaccinated against Polio when they are young, but James and I were advised to get a booster shot as an adult, since we were traveling to countries that have a higher infection rate. The vaccine should last at least 10 years.


Besides all these crazy vaccinations, James and I brought along many prescription and over-the-counter medications for precautionary measures. There is our HUGE array of over-the-counter meds we brought along “just in case”: pepto bismol, pain meds, antacids, benedryl, cold meds, motion sickness pills, sleeping pills, and caffeine pills (both sleeping pills and caffeine pills to help with jet lag if needed.)

Also, we carry along probiotics, which is also recommended if you travel to “less clean” countries where food contamination is high: Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of South America. We were taking one caplet, which contains 5 billion organisms, daily while we were in China and Southeast Asia (we didn’t start them until halfway through China and realized we REALLY should have started before we arrived there!) We also plan to take these while in India and parts of Africa. **These are also good to take if you are on a round of antibiotics.

IN ADDITION, from reading information and advice online we also got our doctors in the US to prescribe some additional prescription-only medications:

Since I seemed to be the tastiest dessert for mosquitos in Asia, I often worried about Malaria… even though we were taking the pills!

Malarone is a medication to prevent catching the disease, Malaria. Malaria is prominent in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and sections of South America, and is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. We took some of these meds as we traveled throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, and part of Thailand, and we will also need to take them again when we pass through certain countries in Africa. In order for the medication to protect us, we need to take one pill each day starting 2 days before entering the Malaria infected area, then every day while in the area, and then 7 days after we have left the area.

Azithromycin (Zithromax / Z-pak)
Azithromycin is an antibiotic that is used to treat any upper respiratory infections including bronchitis and pneumonia.  My doctor suggested we bring this on our trip since we are traveling for so long and will probably be exposed to many other travelers who might be carrying some nasty respiratory infections. Fortunately, we haven’t needed these meds (yet) on our trip so far!

Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
Cipro is an antibiotic to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Years ago, I had read online and was told by my doctor that this is definitely something I should bring along on my trip “just in case” I get sick. Considering how often I got sick in Spain in 2008, and how much James and I got stick in China and Vietnam, it’s really necessary to have these pills with you on a trip abroad! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND, if you are traveling to countries within Asia, Africa, Central America, or South America for several weeks, you definitely should bring antibiotics along in the chance you come down with traveler’s diarrhea. AND CIPRO WAS A

Sick in bed, AGAIN! I finally took Ciprofloxacin in Vietnam after weeks and weeks of reoccurring stomach sicknesses… and it worked!

LIFE SAVER FOR US on this trip!  After being sick for weeks and weeks in China, then again in Vietnam, James and I did a one-week round of Ciprofloxacin and it finally WIPED OUT WHATEVER INFECTION/BACTERIA WE HAD!! Phew!  We finally felt NORMAL and relieved from pain for the first time in over a month!

Acetazolamide is a medication to prevent altitude sickness. Since there are some mountainous areas of the world that we are considering visiting (such as the Mount Everest area in Nepal, or Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa/Tanzania), we brought these pills along just in case we need them. Before doing anything moderately active in a high elevation city, a person should spend a day or two in the city in order to acclimate to the surroundings. Otherwise, one might get altitude sickness, which includes headache, nausea, heavy breathing, and extreme tiredness.  I have read that if you don’t get—and take—this medication before arriving at high elevation city, you most likely will have some or all symptoms of altitude sickness.


Phew!  LOTS of stuff to be putting in our bodies, eh?  Oh well, my policy—thanks to my lovely mother—has always been:  ALWAYS BE PREPARED!!!!

And we definitely HAVE been for this trip…  at least with medications and vaccinations!!



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3 responses to “Getting medicated and vaccinated”

  1. Ann says:

    Wowza, that is A LOT of vaccinations and pills when it’s all listed out like this! Way to be prepared!

  2. Bryce says:

    Yeeeaaaah, having a stomach virus while traveling sounds like my least favorite thing in the world. Here’s to hope for perfect health on the rest of your travels!

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