Boat Gear & Outfitting | Offshore Emergency Medicine

Vaccines for Cruisers

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***I am not a medical professional.  Just sharing the research I’ve done regarding our trip.  Talk to your doctor!***

Yesterday we went to our PCP to discuss medical concerns for cruising.  At our Offshore Emergency Medicine course, it was recommended that we talk to our physicians and get a personalized approach to our medical care on board, other than what is recommended for cruisers in general.  We have had the amazing luck to find a doctor (actually 2 doctors) here that are sailors and have chartering and cruising experience.  We are also lucky to be young enough that there aren’t many concerns in terms of chronic health.

In preventative measures, we discussed vaccines for cruisers.  I hadn’t put much thought into it other than what our course taught us.  Our doctor was able to give us two vaccines in the office.  The rest of the vaccines will be administered at the UTMB Travel Clinic in Galveston.  An excellent resource for information is the CDC website.

Last night I took a good hard look at what we expect we will need to get based on where we are traveling.  The CDC breaks their recommendations down to “all travelers”, “most travelers”, and “some travelers”.  “All travelers” means that you should have these vaccines for any travel you are doing and may be required for visiting countries.  “Most travelers” means there is a risk in the country and you should protect against it.  “Some travelers” means that if you are visiting rural situations or doing certain activities you are at greater risk.  Those activities may include eating local food in small villages or hiking where you may come in contact with wild animals.

All the Different Vaccines

Here are some of the vaccines we are looking at:

  • MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) – This is a standard vaccine administered here in the US.  We have to track down our vaccine records but are fairly certain we are covered here.
  • Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) – This is a standard vaccine in the states, and a critical one for cruisers, particularly because of the tetanus shot.  Although we probably have had this in the past, our doctor gave us the vaccine yesterday.  It requires a Td booster every 10 years.
  • Hepatitis A – Transmitted through food and water contamination, Hep A is a concern in underdeveloped countries without running water and sanitation systems.  This vaccine requires two doses, at least 6 months apart, so we got our first dose yesterday and will get the second dose sometime after January.
  • Hepatitis B – Transmitted through sexual contact, contaminated needles, and blood products, Hep B is a concern particularly if we need to have medical procedures done in foreign countries that aren’t as medically developed as the US.  Our doctor wanted to see if we had had this vaccine already before administering it to us.
  • Typhoid – Transmitted through contaminated food and water, the CDC recommends this vaccine for anyone visiting rural areas and adventurous eaters (that’s us!).
  • Yellow Fever – There is a possibility that we will travel to several countries that have areas with a risk of Yellow Fever, including Trinidad & Tobago, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador.  Note that these countries are on the path of anyone who is traveling the south side of the Caribbean Sea.  Most countries where there is no risk still require proof of vaccine.  This is even more critical if you are coming from a country with a yellow fever risk.  If you want to be let into those countries, be sure to have your vaccine records with you while clearing into the country.
  • Rabies – We discussed rabies a lot in our class, and the recommendation was to get the rabies vaccine because the disease is so extreme.  One of the benefits of traveling via boat is access to remote towns (with stray dogs) and hiking in beautiful scenic locations (with bats and other wild animals).  When a wild animal bites you, it is recommended to get the vaccine and immune globulin immediately.  However, adequate vaccinations are not available throughout the world. Immune globulin is a fast acting shot to prevent infection.  The pre-exposure vaccine is a series of 3 shots over 28 days.  Once an unvaccinated human shows signs of rabies, there is a 99% chance of fatality.  If you have received the vaccine and get bit, that may expose you to rabies.  The CDC recommends an immediate dose of the rabies vaccine and then 3 days later another dose.
  • Japanese Encephelitis – JE is a mosquito-transmitted disease found in Asian and Pacific countries.  Some countries we plan on traveling to where a risk exists are Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.  Since these countries are halfway across the world and it will likely be a while before we get there, we will consider the life span of the vaccine and the need for yearly boosters before we get it.
  • Polio – As of right now we are not planning on getting the Polio vaccine for two reasons; we’ve probably already had it and it is recommended for people providing medical aid in rural countries.  According to the CDC, there are only 3 countries that are not polio-free in the world; CDC provides Vaccine Information Sheets about all of these vaccines.  After I researched what was needed at the CDC website, I created a handy spreadsheet.  This spreadsheet shows the recommended vaccines for common cruising areas, according to the CDC.  View it here.

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