If you are planning on traveling outside of North American, chances are fair that there is a vaccine or medication that your doctor will recommend you take prior to departure. This is certainly the case for China, as there are several vaccines that are very important for anyone that intends to visit China for more than just a short stay. Here is a list of the major vaccines that you can ask your doctor or travel doctor about prior to leaving.
Hepatitis A – This disease has the potential for making you very sick, doing damage to your liver and kidneys. Though not always fatal, it is certainly not something you want to get. As it is most frequently transferred through contaminated food and water, it is strongly advised to have this prior to your trip to China.
Hepatitis B – Once again, Potential for damage to your liver and kidneys. These organs do very important things, my friends! Do them a favor a get this vaccine series. Hep B is spread through contact with bodily fluids, so any procedures that you would take to prevent HIV will go a long way in protecting yourself for Hep B. Better yet, just get the vaccine and call it a day. This one comes in a three-part series over the course of several months, so make sure that you have enough time prior to your departure, or that your return will not conflict with receiving the second and third shots.
Typhoid – Yet another disease spread through contaminated food and water, in this it is one where the water has been contaminated with feces from individuals who already have the disease. The vaccine is a single series, so just one and you’re good to go. I will note, however, that the vaccine is not 100% effective. Fear not, a simple washing of the hands and basic hygiene go a long way with prevention.
Polio Booster – Chances are fair that if you grew up in a ‘Developed’ nation, you received a Polio vaccine as a child. Chances are also fair that if you are reading this you are no longer a Child and, as such, are in need of a Polio booster! I have heard mixed thoughts on the length of effectiveness of the Polio vaccine, but as far as I can tell there is no reason not to get a booster shot just to make sure. Although it has been all but eliminated in the United States, there are still a number of areas in other parts of the world that hold the virus. China was, in the year 2000, declared to be Polio-free, but the travel clinic recommended the vaccine nonetheless. I leave this one in your hands
Meningitis – Now here is one that might make some people shake their heads. If you are headed to China for business purposes, this one probably doesn’t apply to you. If you are going to be staying in dormitories in Chinese universities, or other locations where there are crowded rooms, this is a recommended vaccine. Bacterial Meningitis attacks the spine and brain very quickly. In severe cases, it can lead to death within a few days if it is not diagnosed. And yes, it is found in China. If you were a college student in the United States, there is a good chance that you have already received the vaccine, but the vaccine is only effective for five years, so it is advisable to check and see if you are still good to go.
Japanese Encephalitis – Carried by certain mosquitoes, this disease attacks the nervous system, causing loss of control of the muscles. Pretty nasty stuff, but the risk of infection is relatively low, unless you plan on spending extended amounts of time in rural regions, particularly those with rice paddies and those that are located in the southern regions. If this is the case, the vaccine is a two part series, with a price tag anywhere between $500 and $1000.
Malaria – Caused by the sting of a contaminated Mosquito, malaria is more prevalent in other parts of southern Asia, however there is still some risk of infection in parts of China. The CDC shows that Henan, Hunan, Anhui and Yunnan are the highest risk. There is no vaccine for protection for Malaria. Instead, travelers are encouraged to arrange for a prescription of medication that will reduce the likelihood of infection. Pills are typically taken two days prior to entry into a high-risk region, and for the duration of stay in the area. You are also able to do quite a bit by wearing long sleeve clothing, using bugs repellent and sleeping with a net around your bed.
All of these vaccines and medications are available through a travel doctor, but in many cases they will not accept you insurance, so expect to be handed a hefty bill at the end of your visit. I received Polio, Meningitis, Hep A and Typhoid, with the total cost coming out at $465 when added up with the consultation fee. Expensive but worth the protection.