Relief workers and others traveling to earthquake-stricken Haiti are being advised to get vaccinated against several potentially life-threatening illnesses.
"If you're going to Haiti, especially now, you need to be protected," said Bertie Barber, immunization-health nursing supervisor for the Seminole County Health Department. "There are lots of hazards, such as fallen debris, that can pose a tetanus risk and lots of people with injuries that can put them at risk for hepatitis."
Barber said travelers to Haiti should have several vaccinations. She said the Seminole Health Department, the region's main clinic for travel vaccinations, will waive travel consult and other administrative fees and provide needed vaccines at cost for those participating in relief efforts strictly as volunteers.
Costs range from $18 for seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines to $94 for shots to prevent chicken pox.
Barber said most people are already protected against common childhood illnesses such as chicken pox, and travelers should bring a copy of their shot records for verification of past immunizations.
"Some shots aren't necessarily common, such as vaccination against hepatitis A and B. And you definitely want to be protected against those diseases, because they are endemic to Haiti," said Barber.
Likewise, health officials say it is especially important to have a current tetanus shot because of all the exposed debris since the quake.
It is also important to keep in mind that some vaccinations must be taken over a course of weeks and even months before they take effect. For hepatitis A, a second dose is required several months after the first dose; however, one dose of vaccine provides adequate short-term protection. For hepatitis B, the first in a three-dose series over six months may provide some protection. An accelerated dosing schedule may be used — doses at day 1, 7 and 21-30 days, with a booster at 12 months.
For typhoid, the injectable vaccine may be preferable to pills when travel is imminent.
In addition, Barber said travelers to Haiti should be aware of potential insect-borne diseases. Malaria occurs in all parts of Haiti. Prevention tips include taking a prescription antimalarial drug, using insect repellent and wearing long pants and sleeves to prevent mosquito bites, and sleeping in well-screened rooms or using bed nets. Dengue, also transmitted by mosquito bite, is a common infection, and no vaccine or medications can prevent it.
Finally, Barber suggests that those with existing medical conditions should reconsider traveling to Haiti.
"Medical personnel and supplies are stretched really thin," she said. "If you're at high risk for anything, it's probably best not to go at this particular time."
For information on travel vaccines, go to the Seminole County Health Department Web site, seminolecohealth.com or call 407-665-2410. Other county health departments provide some vaccinations for travelers, and information on immunization locations. Information is also available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, cdc.gov/travel.
Fernando Quintero can be reached at 407-650-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be safe, not sorry
The CDC recommends travelers to Haiti get the following vaccines:
• All routine vaccinations
• Hepatitis A or immune globulin
• Hepatitis B
The CDC also recommends precautions against malaria, dengue, tuberculosis, anthrax and HIV, but there are no vaccines for these diseases.
For more information, go to cdc.gov/travel.