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Travel Smart: Get Vaccinated

Couple looking at travel brochuresBefore you travel internationally, ensure that you are up to date on all your routine vaccines, as well as travel vaccines.

More and more Americans are travelling internationally each year. Today more than a third of Americans have a passport.  It is important to remember that some types of international travel, especially to developing countries and rural areas, have higher health risks. These risks depend on a number of things including:

  • Where you are traveling
  • Your activities while traveling
  • Your current health status
  • Your vaccination history

Measles and International Travel

Each year, unvaccinated people get measles while in other countries and bring it to the United States. This has sometimes led to outbreaks.  The majority of measles cases brought into the U.S. come from U.S. residents. When we can identify vaccine status, almost all are unvaccinated.

Vaccination is the best protection against measles. Before leaving for trips abroad, make sure you and your family are protected against measles. Plan ahead and check with your doctor to see if you and your family need MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.

Vaccines can help protect you against a number of serious diseases, including typhoid and yellow fever, which are found in some developing countries. Vaccine-preventable diseases that are rare in the United States, such as polio, can still be found in other parts of the world. Measles still occurs year round in many countries, including common travel destinations in Europe and Asia. Worldwide, about 20 million people get measles each year; about 146,000 die. Many of the cases in the United States in 2014 were associated with cases brought in from the Philippines, which experienced a large measles outbreak. This year so far, about 170 people have been reported as having measles in the United States; most of these people were not vaccinated or didn’t know if they were vaccinated. Also, nearly all the cases are associated with international travel. CDC recommends that all U.S. travelers 6 months of age or older be protected from measles and receive MMR vaccine prior to leaving for trips abroad, unless they can show that they were previously vaccinated or had measles in the past.

Protect Yourself and Plan Ahead

Talk with your health care professional when you are planning international travel, especially if you have any health conditions. Since not all primary health care professionals stock travel vaccines, you may need to visit a travel clinic to receive the vaccines you need.

  • Make an appointment with your health care professional or a travel clinic at least 4-6 weeks prior to any international travel. This allows you time to complete any vaccine series and gives your body time to build up immunity. Find out vaccine recommendations and requirements for your travel destination.
  • When talking to your health care professional about your travel, also ask about routine vaccines. Make sure you are up-to-date on your routine vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine, before your travel.
  • Check if the country you are traveling to requires proof of yellow fever vaccine. This vaccine can only be given by a registered provider and must be given at least 10 days prior to travel. You'll need to get a stamped vaccine certificate as well. Find a Yellow Fever Vaccination Clinic.

Travel Smart and Stay Healthy

In addition to ensuring you have both the routine and travel vaccines you need, be a smart traveler by following these helpful hints:

  • Be careful what you eat and drink.
    • Only eat fully cooked food that is served hot. This includes fruits and vegetables, unless you can wash them in clean water or peel them yourself.
    • Eat and drink only pasteurized dairy products.
    • Only drink beverages that are bottled and have a seal that is unbroken (such as bottled water or sodas). Do not use ice in any drinks.
    • For more information, see our Food and Water Safety tips.
  • Bugs (including mosquitoes, ticks, and some flies) can spread a number of diseases. Use insect repellent and learn other ways to Avoid Bug Bites. In malaria risk areas, make sure you sleep in an air conditioned or screened room or under a bed net.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Don't touch animals, especially monkeys, dogs, and birds. Follow other tips to Be Safe Around Animals.
Passport and International Certificate of Vaccination

Immunization is one of the best ways to protect travelers from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Learn More

  • Find out about the health risks and recommended travel-related vaccines and medicines you might need for your destination.
  • Get the latest health updates for areas you plan to travel to.
  • Be sure to be up-to-date on your routine vaccines. Take our vaccination quiz to find out which routine vaccines are recommended for you and discuss your results with your health care professional during your next appointment. Remember many diseases that are now uncommon in the United States, such as measles, occur commonly in other countries.
  • Learn about common travel health topics and specific diseases that can affect you while traveling.
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