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What travel vaccines won't prevent

Vaccines are great for preventing many communicable diseases. But there are some problems that you can't avoid just by getting a shot.

All causes of travellers' diarrhea

The most common illness to strike Canadian tourists in developing countries is travellers' diarrhea (TD), which usually lasts 3 or 4 days but can sometimes last a week or longer. It can be caused by any of a number of bacteria, such as E. coli, and, less often, by parasites. TD is usually characterized by stomach cramping, urgency to use the bathroom, nausea, vomiting, fever, bloating, and frequent loose or watery bowel movements.

If you contract TD but it's not too severe, you may be able to treat it yourself with anti-diarrhea and fever-reducing medications, as well as oral rehydration solutions.

You can reduce your risk of getting TD or similar infections by following some basic precautions:

  • Cook it, peel it, or leave it!
  • Avoid food from street vendors.
  • Drink carbonated drinks and bottled beverages and do not add ice.
  • Avoid non-pasteurized dairy products and ice cream.
  • Avoid uncooked foods, especially shellfish, and salads. Fruit that can be peeled is usually safe.
  • Use bottled water, not tap water, even when brushing your teeth.

TD may also be prevented by taking an oral vaccine called Dukoral®. This medication can be taken by healthy individuals over 2 years of age. The vaccine is taken as 2 doses at intervals of at least a week, but not more than 6 weeks apart. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist to see if the vaccine is right for you and your family.

For more information on this and what else you can do to prevent traveller's diarrhea, check with a health care professional or travel clinic before travelling.


Bedbugs live in various places, but particularly in dirty mattresses and bedding. Bedbugs leave itchy bites in neat rows – and excessive scratching can cause infections. Be careful where you sleep! If you do get bitten by bed bugs, calamine lotion or cortisone cream may help with the itching. Take an antihistamine if you have an allergic reaction to the bites. To get rid of the bugs, you will need to wash all your bedding, and possibly steam or replace your mattress.


Malaria is an infection caused by a parasite spread by mosquito bites. It causes muscle aches, chills, and fever, and can be fatal. If you're going to an area where there is a risk of contracting malaria, you will need to take medication to prevent it. There are antimalarial pills available that are taken for a period of time before you travel, during the travel period, and for 1 to 4 weeks after returning home.

To avoid malaria and other insect-borne infections, take a few precautions:

  • Avoid mosquitoes by staying in insect-proof areas during the time of day when mosquitoes bite (evening and nighttime).
  • Use DEET-containing insect repellents. Do not use DEET-containing products on children under 6 months of age. Use 10% DEET or less on children less than 12 years old. Follow the instructions on the bottle carefully on how to use DEET-containing products. Do not spray DEET on your face or anywhere near your eyes. Instead, spray it on your hands and pat it onto your face. Ask your health care provider for more information about using DEET-containing products.
  • Sleep in screened or netted, air-conditioned accommodation or use permethrin-impregnated bed nets.
  • Wear trousers and long-sleeved shirts. Wear light-coloured clothing.
  • Take your anti-malaria medications as directed by your doctor.

There are also other infections and illnesses you can get from animals – for instance, forms of influenza that may be transmitted from birds. To avoid animal-borne infections:

  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid open-air markets and farms – or avoid animals altogether.
  • Be wary of animal products.

Jet lag

It's easier on your sleep schedule to travel west than to travel east – your body can adjust as easily to going to bed 90 minutes later than normal as to waking up 60 minutes earlier. But if you have to adjust in one direction, you'll have to adjust in the other on your way back. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to beat jet lag.

Travelling east

  • For 2 or 3 days before departure, go to bed an hour earlier every night.
  • Take melatonin at bedtime for 3 to 4 nights after getting to your destination. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication.
  • Exposure to morning light (whether or not the sun is shining) is helpful.

Travelling west

  • For 2 or 3 days before departure, go to bed an hour later every night.
  • Take melatonin at bedtime for 3 to 4 nights after getting to your destination. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication.
  • Exposure to afternoon sunlight (whether or not the sun is shining) is helpful.

General tips

  • Adjust your routine (e.g., light exposure, activity, meals) to the new schedule as soon as you arrive in your destination.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while travelling. Minimize alcohol and caffeine, which can cause dehydration.
  • Eat light meals during the travel time.

Note that there are studies showing that melatonin can help minimize jet lag, but none to prove it is safe to take for long periods.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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