Have A Safe Trip
Education and Advocacy The importance of travel vaccination.
It can already be difficult for Canadians to navigate the sea of vaccines recommended for adults to receive for protection against diseases prevalent here at home. How much more difficult is it to make informed decisions when travelling to other parts of the world where different, and potentially much more deadly, diseases are endemic.
For many people, travel vaccination is an afterthought rather than a conscious part of their planning for a trip or vacation. And even when people do give consideration to travel vaccination, they are notoriously bad at evaluating the real risks involved. “People have a pretty hard time assessing risk,” says Dr. Brian Ward, a professor of Medicine and Microbiology at McGill University.
"Travellers are also often exposed to food or water contamination at more adventurous third world destinations. Hepatitis A is seldom seen in Canada these days, but is a common disease elsewhere."
This is particularly true when it comes to diseases that travellers may be unlikely to catch but which are devastating when they do, like typhoid, yellow fever, or rabies. “A one in five thousand risk means you have to vaccinate five thousand people to prevent one case. But each case of these diseases is really very bad.”
And the issue goes well beyond leisure travellers. “There is a large group of people returning to introduce their Canadian-born kids to relatives back in the old country,” says Dr. Ward. “We call these people VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) travellers, and they are at massively elevated risk for just about everything. In many cases they are nonchalant about the risk, because they came from these countries themselves.”
Travellers are also often exposed to food or water contamination at more adventurous third world destinations. Hepatitis A is seldom seen in Canada these days, but is a common disease elsewhere. There is a vaccine.
Currently, very few travellers even consider travel vaccines (perhaps as low as 15 or 20 percent), and the numbers are even lower among VFR travellers who are usually at higher risk. The most important thing, says Dr. Ward, is to make an appointment at a travel clinic in the early planning stages of your trip to receive information about recommended vaccines and to help you properly assess the costs and risks involved.