Now that the world is traveling again, Kenya and Tanzania are back on top of the list of adventure travel destinations. An African safari experience remains a must for any traveler’s bucket list. You can get a full safari experience in either one of these East African countries, but many people visit both countries in the same trip.
After choosing your safari tours and booking your travel, the next step is to visit your local travel clinic. Africa is not only an alluring and exotic destination, but is also home to a whole continent of unique health risks. Your first step is to get all the travel vaccinations you need to protect you against the variety of tropical diseases found in Africa.
Yellow Fever Vaccine
To begin with, it is important to understand the difference between a required and a recommended vaccine. Under International Health Regulations, many countries “require” you to have a Yellow Fever vaccine, meaning you will be prevented from entering the country without an official certification showing proof that you received a Yellow Fever vaccine. Yellow Fever vaccine can also be “recommended” to prevent acquiring Yellow Fever, which is a serious and life-threatening disease with no treatment.
International Health Regulations designate Kenya as a Yellow Fever endemic country, whereas Tanzania is not. This is significant when planning your itinerary for two reasons: 1) Yellow Fever vaccine is required for travel from Kenya to Tanzania but is not required for travel from Tanzania to Kenya. 2) Yellow Fever vaccine is highly recommended for travel to Kenya and is not recommended if your travel is limited to Tanzania. And, just to complicate the issue, Zanzibar (an island that belongs to Tanzania), has recently been requiring travelers to produce proof of Yellow Fever vaccination, even though this contradicts existing health regulations.
The decision to get a Yellow Fever vaccine is not simple. The rules are complicated and requirements depend on the details of your specific itinerary. Even though the Yellow Fever vaccine is highly effective, it can also cause side effects in some individuals. You can only obtain a Yellow Fever vaccine at a certified Yellow Fever site because it requires a consultation with a travel health specialist who will review your medical history and itinerary to determine whether a Yellow Fever vaccine is both appropriate and safe for you. The travel health specialist at your local travel clinic is still the best person to decide whether you need the vaccine and to make sure you will not be turned away at the border without one.
Before you travel to Africa, or anywhere outside the country, first ensure that you are up to date with all of your “routine” vaccinations, which are those you should have even if you aren’t traveling. Routine vaccinations include TdaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), COVID-19, and influenza (the flu shot). These diseases are more common in most resource poor countries, whose populations have lower vaccination rates. Measles and polio are fairly rare in the US, but outbreaks of measles and polio have been occurring recently throughout Africa, including in both Tanzania and Kenya. Measles is one of the most contagious diseases on the planet. You need to have two documented MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccines during your lifetime to have protective immunity. A single adult polio booster may be recommended for travel to certain African countries.
Hepatitis A vaccine
Hepatitis A is a serious viral disease transmitted by food and water and is the second most common vaccine-preventable disease in the world (after the flu). Hepatitis A (HepA) vaccine is part of the routine immunization schedule for all children in the US and most developed countries. The HepA vaccine has only been available since the late 1990s, so most adults have not had the benefit of hepatitis A vaccination as a child. I call hepatitis A vaccine the “slam-dunk” vaccine for travelers because the disease is so common outside this country and the vaccine is one of the most effective and safe travel vaccines available. A series of two hepatitis A shots protect you for life against acquiring the disease. If you travel outside the US, and especially to Africa, just like the old commercial used to say: “Don’t leave home without it.”
Hepatitis B vaccine
The CDC recommends that every adult in the US receive a complete series of hepatitis B (HepB) vaccines. It is also part of the routine childhood vaccination series, and children receive their first HepB shot on the day they are born. The incidence of hepatitis B among the population in Africa is among the highest in the world. Depending on the formulation, 2 or 3 Hepatitis B shots protect you for a lifetime.
A typhoid shot is another important travel vaccine recommended for most travelers to Africa, including Kenya and Tanzania. Two forms of typhoid vaccine are available. A single, injectable form of typhoid vaccine protects you from typhoid for 2 years before you need a booster dose. A live, oral form of typhoid vaccine is also available and protects you for up to 5 years.
Rabies can be transmitted by any mammal and is 100% fatal if not treated. The usual rabies carriers in Africa are stray dogs, bats and sometimes monkeys. Being bitten or scratched by an animal is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Rabies is present all throughout Africa, but rabies treatment is scarce and unreliable if you are not near a large urban center such as Cape Town, Johannesburg or Nairobi. Fortunately, a very safe and effective rabies vaccine is available that can protect you with only two doses 1 week apart, before your trip.
Cholera is another food and water borne disease that has been increasing in incidence, especially in Africa. A Cholera vaccine for travel may be recommended for travelers doing mission work, or visiting less developed areas and refugee camps. A single dose, oral cholera vaccine called Vivotif® is currently available in the US.
Explore Africa, but be prepared.
Africa is considered the cradle of civilization and one of the last great wildlife frontiers left on the planet. Without exception, all my travelers that return from Africa light up and tell me about their wonderful and positive experiences when I ask them how their trip went. However, it remains a region with the most health risks in the world, which is why it is so important to be prepared with preventive measures to avoid illnesses that can ruin your trip.
Routine vaccines as well as travel vaccines are a key part of pre-travel preparations, but other preventions are just as important. During a pre-travel consultation, your travel health expert will also review how to prevent malaria, other insect-borne diseases, and traveler’s diarrhea.
The memories of seeing wildlife on the African savannah will live with you forever. Book your travel clinic appointment today to make sure that great memories are all you bring back with you.