Vaccination guide for mission trips
Before your international mission trip, it's important to figure out which vaccinations you'll need to stay healthy in the country you're traveling to. The types of diseases and viruses you could be exposed to vary across the world. But understanding which vaccinations you need and why you need them can be confusing.
On this page you'll find a general vaccination guide to help you determine which vaccinations you'll probably need to get before your mission trip. This guide assumes that you're up-to-date on your routine vaccinations (measles, tetanus, and polio vaccines), most of which you probably received as a child.
Tip: A vaccination is usually administered in the form of a shot. Schedule an appointment to get your shots as soon as you can. Some shots require multiple "doses" several weeks apart. Getting your vaccinations early means you'll have plenty of time if you need to schedule an additional appointment for a second dose.
|Central America||Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Malaria*|
|Mexico / Caribbean||Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Malaria*|
|South America||Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Malaria*|
|Europe||Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B|
|Australia||Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis|
|Asia||Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, Malaria*|
|Africa||Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever, Meningitis, Malaria*|
(Click on a vaccination to learn more about it.)
You probably already have these routine vaccinations—they're usually given to you as a child before you go to kindergarten. The big "routine" vaccinations are measles, tetanus, and polio.
Hepatitis A is a virus that impacts the liver. Exposure to Hepatitis A usually occurs through food or water that has been poorly sanitized. On a mission trip, food is usually prepare for you, and you don't always have control over how well food is sanitized. The result of Hepatitis A can be several months of sickness and nausea.
Typhoid is a fever caused by Salmonella, a bacteria. Exposure to Typhoid, like Hepatitis A, usually occurs through food and water that has been contaminated. Untreated, the sickness and fever can be life-threatening.
Hepatitis B is a virus that impacts the liver. Exposure to Hepatitis B occurs through contact with blood or other body fluids of an infected person. In a mission trip scenario, this could occur during a medical clinic or while doing manual labor outside—if someone gets injury and starts bleeding. The results of Hepatitis B vary significantly from mild sickness for a couple of weeks to long-term health issues.
This is a very rare disease that is spread by mosquitos in parts of Australia and Asia. On a mission trip you usually spend a lot of time outdoors, where you're more likely to encounter potentially infected mosquitoes than the average traveler. The disease usually only results in mild sickness, but in some cases can cause inflammation of the brain—called encephalitis—which is life-threatening. Again, this is a very rare disease, but for peace of mind's sake, you may want to get this vaccination.
Yellow Fever is virus that is spread by mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical areas of the world—mainly parts of South America and Africa. On a mission trip you usually spend a lot of time outdoors, where you're more likely to encounter potentially infected mosquitoes than the average traveler. The results of Yellow Fever vary from light fever to liver disease, and can be life-threatening if it's not treated.
Meningitis is a disease caused by bacteria. Exposure to meningitis occurs through a carrier's saliva. On a mission trip, this could happen if you're playing with young children who drool or wipe their mouths with their hands. While meningitis is found throughout the world, sub-Saharan Africa is known as the “meningitis belt.” Meningitis can cause serious sickness and lead to an infection of the blood stream. Left untreated it can become life-threatening. Get this vaccination and eliminate any worries while you're playing with those kids!
Malaria has an asterisk because this is not a vaccination, but a preventative prescription. There is no vaccination for malaria (yet), but there are several malaria-preventative prescriptions that can be taken during a trip to counteract any exposure to the disease.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne illness that causes severe sickness and fever, and can be life-threatening if it's not treated. If you need to prepare for potential exposure to malaria, visit your doctor to find out which prescription is recommended for you.
Tip: Get your malaria prescription early, and get a week's worth of extra pills to "try out" before you go. (Try them out as far in advance of your trip as you can.) Prescriptions to fight malaria sometimes come with side effects, and it's better to find out about those side effects before your trip, instead of during your trip. That way, if you need to go back to your doctor and get a different prescription, you'll have the time.
A shot you probably don't need
You'll find that a rabies vaccination is recommended for virtually every trip outside of the United States. Exposure to rabies occurs when an infected animal bites and saliva is introduced into an individual's blood stream.
While rabies is a serious condition, take a look at the way rabies vaccinations work before spending the time and money to get vaccinated:
If you don't get vaccinated, you'll need to find a nearby medical clinic if you get bit by an animal. Once you get to a clinic, you'll receive four shots (ouch) to neutralize the rabies virus in your body.
If you want to get vaccinated, you need to get three shots over a period of three weeks before you travel. However, if you get bit by an animal while you're traveling, you'll still need to find the nearest medical clinic and get two more "booster" shots to completely neutralize the rabies virus in your system.
So, either way—preexposure vaccine or not—you're going to have to seek medical attention if you're bit by an infected animal. And, since you'll be visiting a medical clinic after a bite either way, you may want to consider skipping this vaccine and only dealing with it if the need arises.
Staying healthy on your mission trip is important, but it's nothing that you need to spend time worrying about. After you get the recommended vaccinations for your trip, avoid the temptation to spend time worrying about getting sick. Chances are, your mission trip will happen without any health issues at all. However, in the event that your body does run into an issue, with these vaccinations, you'll be prepared.
The above information is general advice. Since your situation is unique and specific, always talk to your doctor about the vaccinations that you need before you travel.
Research retrieved from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Written by CJ