For the mums out there, the upcoming mid-year school holidays typically mean planning a family vacation with your children. Being familiar with the risks of travel can help keep them stay safe and healthy. This may include getting pre-travel advice, vaccines or certain medications, even if the destination is not considered exotic. Developed areas such as the United States and Europe have reported large outbreaks of measles, meningococcal infection and pertussis, and there were many who suffered serious complications from seasonal influenza in Hong Kong last year.
Protecting children before travelling involves updating their routine childhood vaccines and giving appropriate travel specific vaccines. There may be recommended vaccinations for your destination and it may take 4 to 6 weeks before travel to complete them. The vaccines required or recommended will depend on where you are travelling to.
What are some travel-specific vaccines you can consider for your child? Depending on your travel destination, there are several required or recommended travel vaccinations:
Getting your child vaccinated before travelling ensures they stay protected against the following vaccine-preventable infectious diseases:
- Transmitted through contaminated food and water
- Symptoms include fatigue, appetite loss, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and jaundice lasting 2 months or longer (children 5 years and older)
- 2 vaccine doses, taken at least 6 months apart, are required for long-term protection
- Children less than 9 years old taking an influenza vaccine for the first time require 2 doses at least one month apart
- Protection starts 2 weeks after the series is completed
- An annual influenza vaccination is recommended for young children from 6 to 59 months old and those with chronic medical conditions
Japanese Encephalitis (JE)
- Virus is transmitted through an infected mosquito bite
- Common in rural parts of Asia
- Leads to a brain infection with a fatality rate of 1 in 4 affected persons or long-term neurological disability
- A vaccine is recommended for travellers going for extended stays in rural areas (more than a month), making trips to rural farms, going on trips with extensive outdoor exposure, travelling during the high transmission season and visiting areas with an ongoing outbreak
- Meningococcal infection is caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria
- Results in bloodstream infection and meningitis (infection of the brain lining)
- Spread through close contact
- Young children are at increased risk of infection
- Meningococcal vaccination is a requirement to enter Saudi Arabia for the Umrah or Hajj pilgrimage.
- Your child’s doctor would be able to advise on the number and timing of doses and the need for an additional booster according to your child’s age.
- Transmitted through infected animal bites (usually wild animals like bats, stray dogs, foxes, raccoons and other mammals)
- Human rabies leads to severe brain infection and is almost always fatal
- If your trip is considered as being high risk for rabies exposure, consider getting vaccinated before travel (or “pre-exposure” vaccinations) which consists of a 3-dose vaccine series over a period of 3 to 4 weeks
- In the event of a bite and possible rabies virus exposure, treatment (”post-exposure”) would depend on whether you had received rabies vaccines prior to travel
- Typhoid fever is caused by the bacteria, Salmonella Typhi
- Spread through contaminated food and water
- Can cause high fevers, fatigue, headache, stomach pains, occasional rashes, low blood pressure (shock) and potentially death
- One dose of an inactivated vaccine taken at least 2 weeks before travel would provide protection for 2 years
- Virus is spread through an infected mosquito bite
- Can result in liver, kidney and multiple organ failure as well as death in up to half of infected individuals
- Vaccination is required under international health regulations for travel to certain countries in Africa, Central or South America
- Vaccinations can only be administered at certified centres, with an “International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis” (yellow card) provided
- Babies older than 9 months to 59 months of age can receive the vaccine, and 1 dose confers long-term protection
If you are unsure, consult your child’s paediatrician or a doctor trained in travel medicine. They will review your travel itinerary carefully and provide a risk assessment depending on:
- Travel style (Backpacking or hotel)
- Regions you will be visiting (Urban or rural)
- Time of year (Different seasonalities can influence exposure to mosquito-borne diseases)
to determine the recommended vaccines or prevention measures for your trip.