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Immunization Awareness

Why Immunization is An Important Part of Travel Health

Dr. Vivien Brown

Family Physician and Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Toronto

Mosquito-borne diseases can ruin your vacation and cause long-term health effects. By taking proper precautions, including vaccines, you can help prevent them.

Travelling abroad can be a wonderful and exciting adventure. It’s a chance to expand your horizons, try new cuisine, and explore other cultures. But it comes with some risks. One of those is mosquito-borne diseases. Though not something we tend to think about too much when we travel in Canada, it’s an international concern and something to be mindful of when we venture outside the country, especially to the southern hemisphere. “This is a quickly changing landscape and we see these diseases spreading to other countries because of global warming,” says Dr. Vivien Brown, Family Physician and Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Toronto.


Mosquito-borne diseases, an unpredictable risk for travelers

Malaria is one of the best-known mosquito-borne diseases. Found mostly in tropical countries, it’s caused by a parasite that’s spread by mosquitoes. But there are others that are viral in nature that we should be more aware of such as Zika, Dengue fever, Chikungunya, and Japanese Encephalitis. Outbreaks are often unpredictable and hard to manage because of this insect’s ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Zika has recently been found in parts of South America, while Dengue is found in certain South American and African countries. Chikungunya is most common in Africa, Asia and the Americas and Japanese Encephalitis is prevalent in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. “Symptoms for all these diseases overlap considerably, but we see joint and bone pain, fever, and fatigue in Chikungunya, and we also worry about the risk of bleeding in Dengue,” says Dr. Brown. There can also be severe and even permanent long-term consequences to mosquito-borne diseases. “Again, these are variable, but they can include chronic pain, hemorrhage, and even death,” says Dr. Brown. While Japanese Encephalitis tends to be rare in travelers, it has a fatality rate of up to 30 per cent when the disease develops. “Those at greatest risk for complications and poor outcomes from any of these diseases are the very young and the very old, so it’s important to be properly guided and adherent to the advice on prevention,” says Dr. Brown.

Importance of immunization 

Fortunately, mosquito borne diseases are preventable and there are numerous precautions you can take to protect yourself. These include wearing proper clothing, using insect repellent, and, depending on your destination, taking prophylactic medication against malaria. It’s also wise to abide by the local guidance about mosquito nets and when to avoid exposure. “Typically, mosquitoes that transmit Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya are most active during daylight hours, with peak biting at dusk and dawn,” says Dr. Brown. Another source of protection is through vaccines, when available. “Immunization plays a critical role in travel health overall but especially in mosquito-borne diseases. They work by stimulating the immune system to have ready-made, preformed antibodies to block the various viruses from attacking the cells,” says Dr. Brown. Examples of vaccines that prevent mosquito borne diseases include the Yellow Fever vaccine and the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine.

It’s good to speak to your healthcare provider a good six to eight weeks before your departure to learn more about the mosquito risks in your destination country and what precautions you should take. “The time to be educated and proactive is before you travel, so you can protect yourself and your family,” says Dr. Brown. Your family physician, travel health specialist, or pharmacist can be invaluable sources of information. “They can help you reduce the risk of contracting a mosquito-borne illness by providing education on these issues and explain your options about vaccines,” says Dr. Brown.

Protect yourself against contracting a mosquito borne disease by booking a travel health consultation with your healthcare provider or visit

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