Part of the appeal of travelling to a foreign country lies in exposing yourself to new experiences. Unfortunately a necessary consequence of this goal is that, in addition to experiencing new sights, sounds and sensations, you will also experience new disease risks that your body is not used to.
Fear of outbreaks among countries also drives them to mandate that foreigners get certain vaccines to protect against the spread of infectious diseases. To help protect yourself and the people you are going to visit from the possible dangers of serious diseases, you should get most or all of the following African immunizations before you travel.
The risk of contracting hepatitis A is high in most African countries because of inconsistent food preparation and hygiene practices. No matter which country you visit, the CDC highly recommends that you receive a series of hepatitis A immunizations, which come in a series of two shots taken six months apart.
Hepatitis B infections are much less common, but still possible, especially if you are engaging in extended contact with poorer, rural populations in Africa, such as on mission work.
Even with the vaccines, take care when eating and drinking abroad. Contaminated food and water is a common source of hep A and B. Eat only at established restaurants, hotels and other such permanent places that serve food, as opposed to food carts or unregulated businesses that utilize an open kitchen. Try to drink only bottled water, and avoid using ice in your drinks or eating frozen treats like shaved ice.
Yellow fever is a mosquito-transmitted disease that can cause severe liver failure. Sub-saharan African countries like D.R. Congo, Uganda and western regions of Kenya are the only areas that carry a risk of yellow fever, as this CDC map shows. You will be required to have proof of immunization if you enter these countries or if you enter other countries after having travelled to affected areas.
In addition to vaccination, you should take steps to prevent mosquito bites during your travels, such as applying repellent, wearing long clothing and sleeping under a net.
Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial infection that attacks the brain as well as the central nervous system. Countries in Africa’s “meningitis belt” of Sub-Saharan Africa, including South Sudan and western areas of Ethiopia, carry the highest risk of infection.
Even if you are not travelling to these specific countries, a meningitis vaccine is recommended to people of all ages throughout their life to avoid a serious, life-threatening infection.
Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection most often caused by eating contaminated food or drink. Vaccination against typhoid fever is recommended for all travellers regardless of their destination.
Additional Recommended African Immunizations
These vaccines are generally recommended to be up-to-date for all people whether they are travelling or staying home:
- MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
Additionally, you should take precautions against biting insects in order to avoid diseases like malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, sleeping sickness and others.
You can learn more about the recommended vaccines and disease prevention methods based on your destination country by consulting the CDC’s travel immunization portal and also by contacting us for our expert advice.
Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa