The Travel Doc

When it became apparent that our trip would take us to places with weird tropical diseases, Mr. Farmer and I each made an appointment with a travel doctor to figure out what vaccinations and prescriptions we’d need to get. I opted to go to the travel clinic at Northwestern Memorial, since it’s close to my office, and I’d heard that they give great advice. Technically I would be seeing a travel nurse, not a doctor, but that’s neither here nor there.

My first appointment was a month ago, and they told me to eat a full breakfast before an hour before my appointment, then arrive 15 minutes early with my vaccination record and itinerary in hand. So I hopped on the early train, grabbed a bagel sandwich and decaf coffee at Dunkin Donuts in the train station, and set out for my medical adventure.

When they called my name, I was led by my middle-aged friendly (male) travel nurse into a typical exam room, atypically equipped with a desktop computer. He had my itinerary from when I made the appointment, so he already had a stack of maps showing the malaria risk in the countries we’d be visiting. We went over the route in detail, taking note of where we would be when. Interestingly some malaria drugs can’t be used in certain countries because there’s a resistance built-up. He prescribed me Malarone, which is a pill that you start taking two days before you enter the malaria zone and continue take until seven days after you leave it. And I didn’t know that malaria risk is only from dusk to dawn, unlike the risk for Dengue Fever and Japanese Encephalitis, both of which you catch through mosquito bites during the day. (There’s no vaccine for Dengue, and the one for Japanese Encephalitis apparently can have some nasty side effects, so unless there’s major risk, he didn’t recommend it.)

Next we went through my list of routine vaccinations to see if I was up to date. He wrote down that I’d need a polio booster (since I hadn’t had one since age 20 and we’ll be going to Africa, where polio still exists), a tetanus booster, and vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B (now given in the same shot). He asked if we’d be staying is hostels, and though the answer is technically no, I told him that we were planning a 4-day hike in New Zealand and would be staying in bunkhouses along the way. He thought it would be a good idea to get a meningitis shot since we’d be sleeping in the same room with people we don’t know.

Then we talked about Tanzania, which has both the risk for yellow fever and typhoid. With yellow fever, it’s not an issue of having the vaccine before getting into a country with a yellow fever risk, but rather an issue of getting into other countries after being in an at-risk country. For typhoid, he had two options for me – one was a shot that would last two years, and the other was a series of four live vaccine pills taken every other day, which would last five years. I opted for the second, just in case we decide to go nuts and move to Nairobi or something.

He also prescribed an antibiotic for diarrhea (which he assured me that I would no doubt get – it’s just a matter of time).
Finally, we talked about shots for both the flu and swine flu. He suggested shots for both, though we’ll have to find the H1N1 shot when we’re already travelling because it won’t be out before we depart.

All in all, I would need 7 shots. We opted to split it up, so that unlike Mr. Farmer who got 6 in one fell swoop, I’d get 3 that visit and 4 the next.

Shots aren’t my favorite thing, but in truth it wasn’t that bad. And the only side effect was exhaustion by 8:00 p.m.


3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Debra said,

    Love the NW Travel Clinic. So informative. I never used my Cipro and the malarone keeps you up at night – take it in the morning.

  2. 2

    Ann said,

    Guess you are about doine!! I didnt think it was too bad either. See you soon!

  3. 3

    Karen said,

    beware of the yellow fever shot …. that’s the only one that actually physically hurt to get!

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