The excitement is building. You were chosen by a humanitarian group to travel to Haiti to work. But now what? How to prepare? Do you need immunizations for Haiti? How will you stay healthy? What about malaria prevention? Is there anything else to consider?
What you need depends upon how long you will stay and how often you plan return travel to Haiti.
You will need both routine and travel immunizations. If possible visit your travel medicine provider 4-6 weeks prior to departure to help you prepare for your travel to Haiti. If you don’t have that much time, don’t worry, schedule the visit, partial immunity from vaccines and, more importantly, malaria prevention, self-treatment of common illnesses can be discussed at the visit.
Typical travel immunizations recommendations for all people traveling Haiti include:
- Hepatitis A– this nasty viral infection of the liver is often spread thru food or water. This is strongly recommended for anyone traveling to Haiti. Full immunity requires 2 vaccines 6 months apart. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to get both doses prior to travel, 90% of people are protected with the first vaccine.
- Typhoid- is also spread through food and water. You know you don’t want high fevers, belly pain, and diarrhea so get protected.
- Tdap– This is the tetanus shot with whooping cough built in. Now you are protected if you get a cut or scrape as well as from whooping cough.
- Influenza– Do you really want to be sick with the flu while you are there? Do you really want to spread this around to your fellow humanitarians? Enough said.
- Malaria vaccine– It isn’t available (yet). I included it as I get asked about this all the time. You will need to discuss malaria prevention with both medication and mosquito bite avoidance with your travel medicine specialist.
Vaccines which are recommended for some people:
- Hepatitis B – you will want protection from this viral infection of the liver. It is spread through contact with body fluids; if you cut yourself and need stitches or need any other medical care you could be exposed. If you will be working in health care, returning to Haiti multiple times or travel internationally frequently you should seriously consider protecting yourself against Hepatitis B. It requires 3 doses of vaccine over 6 months. The other ways of contracting Hepatitis B should be avoided while traveling: tattoos, piercing, and new sexual partners.
- Rabies-Animal bites are serious business, often requiring evacuation for proper care. If it is within your budget and you will be staying a long time or visiting often, protection with vaccination is advised. Many people choose instead to learn how to provide first aide for a bite and purchase travel health insurance to cover evacuation for treatment with vaccine and HRIG.
- Yellow Fever is not needed because the disease is not present in Haiti. Caveat: if you are coming from a country with Yellow Fever, you will need to show proof of vaccination prior to entry to Haiti.
Check your routine vaccines. Many people are unaware they need a booster.
- Varicella (Chicken Pox)- you will need two doses in your lifetime or have had the disease.
- MMR (Measles) -requires 2 doses in a lifetime.
- Pneumonia-People who smoke or have asthma need the pneumonia vaccine too. Check with your health care provider to see if you are up to date with these.
You need more than vaccines to prepare.
Vaccines are only the tip of the iceberg when preparing to travel to Haiti. You will need to prevent Malaria, Dengue, Cholera, and traveler’s diarrhea. The medical system in Haiti is overburdened and was severely impacted by the recent earthquake. You will want to make plans to receive any needed medical elsewhere. A future post will address these issues.
Schedule an appointment with your travel medicine specialist for the most up-to-date advice about staying healthy in Haiti.
You may also enjoy these:
- What Everybody Ought to Know About Vaccines Before International Travel
- Do I Need a Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B Vaccine For Travel?
- 7 Medical Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Abroad
- 5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before You Travel Abroad
Now it’s your turn. Share your experiences getting ready for travel to Haiti: