May 1, 2011

Do I Need a Yellow Fever Immunization?

I am repeatedly asked by visitors whether any immunizations are needed when travelling to South Africa, and which ones. To give you the short answer: None. If you are more or less up-to-date on your immunizations, you will be absolutely fine.

If you're not up-to-date, it's a good idea in any case to catch up on your MMR, DPT and HepB boosters. Our doctor here also recommended HepA shots, but he said it's a good vaccine to get worldwide, not just for here. The Centers for Disease Control website is probably the best place to get comprehensive information. They also recommend Typhoid and Rabies vaccinations for South Africa, but you would only need those if you plan to extensively trek through rural areas. You will not need them just to go on a safari.

Malaria is present in some areas of South Africa, like the Kruger Park and parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal, so you don't need to worry about it unless you go to those areas specifically. If you do, you will need to get malaria prophylaxis pills, like Malanil (which we just picked up for our upcoming trip to Mozambique - you take one dose the day before you leave, one for each day of your trip, and continue for seven days after your return), which can easily be obtained at one of the many travel clinics here. Some areas are very low risk, like Sodwana Bay in winter, and we didn't bother with Malaria prophylaxis when we went there last year.

Which leaves the topic of this post, Yellow Fever. For some reason some travel agencies insist on you needing that immunization when you don't. South Africa is not a Yellow Fever area. However, large swathes of equatorial Africa (and South America) are Yellow Fever areas, and if you're coming from any of those countries, the non-yellow fever countries will require proof of immunization. This might sometimes be confused as a need for yellow fever vaccination before entering these countries, when indeed it is the opposite. This is how we found ourselves at the travel clinic recently - the entire family - to get yellow fever shots for Mozambique, which it turns out we didn't need. But we went ahead anyway, since we have plans for Zanzibar later this year. Plus, it was a good bonding experience. When you do get your Yellow Fever shots, make sure you also receive one of those international immunization booklets with a stamp in it, so that you can show it when travelling to countries who will require it upon entry. A regular immunization booklet will not be sufficient, it has to be one of those yellow ones.


A brief note on immunization booklets: Becoming an expat might be a good time for you to consolidate those. I found myself with no less than four booklets (partly having to do with the fact that my pediatrician was also my mother, a woman who was known for many accomplishments but being organized was not one of them, and it didn't bother her to just start a new booklet when the other one couldn't be located quickly), and each time I go for another shot I agonize over which one to take.

Another note on moving to South Africa permanently: In this case you will need some other health-related documentation. One is a chest x-ray for anyone over 12 years old to attest they are tuberculosis free (a nuisance but understandable once you realize what a huge problem this disease causes in a country that has also one of the highest HIV infection rates), and the other a certificate from your physician attesting that you are not insane. I am not making this up!