Ask Dr. Marla: Vaccinations for travellers

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on February 11, 2015

Question

We are going to Uganda to visit our family. Should we be worried about Ebola or any other viruses or diseases, and if so, what precautions can we take?

Answer

As you know, Uganda is not in west Africa, where the ebola outbreak is centered. However, there certainly is a lot of fear about ebola, so let’s look at some of the facts that we know according to the World Health Organization:

  • Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
  • The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50 percent. Case fatality rates have varied from 25 to 90 percent in past outbreaks.
  • The first EVD outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests, but the most recent outbreak in west Africa has involved major urban centres as well as rural areas.

Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest. Ebola then spreads between people via direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids. The virus is not airborne or aerosolized like the flu virus, for example.

Those who are most at risk are those people within the community of an ill person who are caring for that person and where there is exposure to blood products.

As a traveller it is most unlikely that you will have this kind of exposure. With any travel, you should see your health care professional in advance to review your vaccines and what is recommended or required for the area you are going to be in, such as:

  • Ensure your tetanus is up to date.
  • Discuss Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccines and see if they are advised – typically they are.
  • Review your immunity to measles, mumps and rubella.
  • In some places, adults are recommended to get an updated polio vaccine.
  • Ask if you should bring antibiotics for traveller’s diarrhea.
  • Find out if there is malaria exposure in any place on your travel itinerary and ask if you should you be taking prophylactic medication.

For more information or other travel advisories, go to travel.gc.ca/travelling.

 

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February 2015.


By Dr. Marla Shapiro| February 11, 2015

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