Sunday, December 22, 2013

Malaria, Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis, Cholera

Oh my! One of the most nerve wracking things on my to do list for my mission trip to Haiti- right after renewing my passport-- was getting the right immunizations.  There's not a whole lot of information tailored to Haiti regarding what types of shots you'll need, so I'm hoping this blog post will help ya. The State Department website is very informative, but honestly a little scary to learn all the things that could possibly go wrong... Between me and you, I stopped reading after the section about how riding on "tap-taps" (Haitian cabs) is strongly discouraged because I know we will be riding them, and I don't want to be terrified! So here's a list of what was recommended to me- less restrictive than what might be recommended by the government. By the way, I highly recommend going to a "Passport Health" if you have one. The downside to this company is that it's privately owned, and they only accept a few insurance companies. They'll give you a customized booklet tailored for your trip and help you feel more confident. If you don't have a Passport Health, your local clinic should have the shots you need or be able to point you in the right direction. A word of caution, my local clinic was completely booked about 6 weeks before my trip as they only give international shots once a week- so if you can, call them at least a few months before your trip. 

Here's my list: 

1. Flu- get this shot not for you, but for those you'll be serving who may have weaker immune systems and less access to health care if they do get sick. You could be carrying the flu virus and not know it when you go. 

2. T-Dap- (Combined Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis Vaccines). I had gotten this two years ago when my niece was born, so I was off the hook. 

3. Hepatitis A- This is a two dose shot, 6 months apart. I'll get my second next summer but should be good to go in the meantime. 

4. Hepatitis B- A three shot series, 30 days apart. I'll have my 2nd round the day I return. 

5. Typhod Fever- you don't even want to mess with this! 

6. I'll get a TB test 6 months after I get back to see if I was exposed... Apparently there's no vaccine for this but there are ways to treat it. 
7. Prescription for Malarone (anti- malarial pills). I'll start taking these a few days before and end a few days after. I was told not to get the generic version because they can have a side effect of digestion issues. These are taken daily. There is another kind you can take weekly but the side effects are trippy so check that out if you go that route. 

8. Prescription for Cipro- this is an anti-biotic that I have in case of emergency (traveler's diareah). 

I'm also taking a pro-biotic pill - these can be taken starting up to a month before your trip.

One last note-- there's no vaccine currently available in the US for cholera- an epidemic that has killed over 8,000 Haitians since 2010. Best bet is to not drink the water- including using tap water to brush teeth or even eating fruits with skin like bananas without washing them with bottled water. Or so they tell me. 

Also, before taking any of this on, you'll want to call your insurance company to see what is covered and what isn't. My insurance company hooked me up and is paying for 80% of all international shots and will pay for any medical emergency in Haiti. The shots can get pretty pricey without insurance coverage and that may factor into your decision on which ones to get. But also- some of the shots- like the flu and the tetanus and possibly the Hepatitis might be covered even if your policy doesn't cover international shots. 

Hope this helped a little bit... I'm not an expert by any means but wanted to shed a little light on the experience for those traveling to Haiti or just curious! 

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