The first stop should be your doctor’s office or, even better, a travel clinic that is able to administer travel-specific vaccines.
“When we counsel travelers, we ask about their itinerary so we know where exactly they’re going, how long they’re there for, whether they’ll be in rural or urban places, if they’re staying in a nice hotel, or are backpacking,” says Dr. Ole Vielemeyer, medical director of Infectious Disease Associates and Travel Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “We also assess the health of the traveler, especially regarding any chronic conditions that may affect the immune system or the ability to travel freely. Once we have all the information, then we will discuss whether the itinerary is safe, what vaccines are needed, what’s safe to eat and drink, and how to avoid insect bite-related illnesses.”
Have a candid conversation with your doctor or a travel-medicine specialist about your travel plans at least 30 to 45 days before your departure, he suggests.
“Some vaccines require more than one dose,” says Dr. Vielemeyer. For example, the Japanese encephalitis vaccine that is used in the U.S. requires two separate doses 28 days apart prior to travel. Likewise, if you need protection from rabies, several shots over three to four weeks are needed for full protection. “Thus, you would need at least four to six weeks prior to travel to start that series so that you have full protection by the time you arrive at your destination,” he says.
Even if you don’t need an immunization or prescription medication, Dr. Vielemeyer says, there are other precautions you should take, depending on your destination.