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ABCs of Typhoid Vaccination

ABCs of Typhoid Vaccination

When you’re visiting a foreign country, trying new and exotic local food can be one of the most exciting parts of your trip. Whether you’re taste-testing Cambodian bay chhar rice or Colombian sanocho soup, learning about new flavors and customs is an experience most travelers look forward to. But in some developing countries, ingesting local food or water can put your health (and your vacation) at risk by putting you in contact with foodborne diseases like typhoid. Don’t worry though, protecting yourself from this nasty illness is as easy as ABC!

Typhoid, also known as typhoid fever, is a bacterial infection transmitted by food or water containing the bacterium salmonella typhi. Though the names are similar, typhoid is not the same as typhus, which is caused by different bacteria. Typhoid symptoms are generally divided into four stages, which, if left untreated, each last about a week. In the first week, the patient experience fever, headache and cough, with possible stomach pain and bloody nose. In the second week, the patient has a higher fever, stomach pain, abnormal bowel movements and delirium. In the third week a patient may experience more delirium and dehydration, as well as possible intestinal hemorrhage or perforation, both serious conditions that can be deadly. However, typhoid is most often not fatal, so if these complications do not occur, the patient’s fever usually reduces in the final week as he or she begins to heal. After recovery, a small percentage of patients become asymptomatic carriers who no longer experience symptoms themselves, but can still infect others.

If you’re about to go on a big trip outside the States and want to avoid a painful month-long illness, you should find out if typhoid is a concern in your destination country. The Center for Disease Control recommends the typhoid vaccine for travelers to most south Asian and African, as well as some South American countries, and is especially important for those travelers visiting rural areas with substandard water treatment protocols. You can visit the CDC’s website and talk to your travel health provider to find out if the typhoid vaccine is necessary for your itinerary.

The typhoid vaccine can be given orally or via injection. The oral dose is a live, weakened version of the disease given in four doses, and the injected dose is the inactive version of the disease, given as a single shot. Depending on your own health and any previous medical conditions, you should decide with your doctor which version of the vaccine is better for you. One main difference is that the injected travel vaccine needs to be administered two weeks before travel and should be re-administered every two years, whereas the oral dose should be given one week before travel and lasts for five years.

Neither the oral nor the injected version of the disease is one-hundred percent effective, though, so it’s still important to watch what you eat and drink while you are away from home. Typhoid is mainly a problem when feces or urine comes in contact with food or drinking water, so frequent hand washing and cleanly food preparation is a key component of keeping typhoid and other food-related diseases out of your system.