Posted by: mkirschmd | February 14, 2010

The H1N1 Vaccine, Who Needs It?

Travelogue is pleased once again to feature guest blogger, Erik McLaughlin, M.D. an experienced travel writer and an expert in travel medicine. When Erik talks, travelers listen. He is a physician member of Travel Clinics of America.

Travel is exciting.  It puts into close contact with new people, new locations, new foods and new cultures.  This is one of the reasons why we all enjoy traveling so much!  However, when one has contact with new areas and new people, there is also a chance to be exposed to new illnesses.  Savvy travelers have consulted with travel doctors for various special travel vaccinations to stay safe on their trip abroad or foreign adventure.  Some travelers require malaria medicine, and others require vaccines against exotic illnesses.

This year, because of the H1N1 pandemic, flu shots have become an important issue for international travelers. 

Influenza vaccines are one of the most important tools to prevent the spread of flu.  Most people should be receiving their annual influenza vaccine to help prevent seasonal flu.  In contrast, the H1N1 vaccine is currently advised for certain ‘high risk’ groups of people and is not advised for general use.  Currently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that the following initial target groups of people receive the H1N1 vaccine:

  • people who live with or provide care for infants younger than 6 months (e.g., parents, siblings, and day care providers)
  • health care and emergency medical services personnel
  • people 6 months through 24 years of age (especially those with higher risk for influenza-related complications like children younger than 5 years and those who have high risk medical conditions)
  • people 25 years through 64 years of age who have certain medical conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related complications.

Once the target groups have been immunized against H1N1, vaccines should be given to the general population from ages 25-64 years of age.  Unlike the yearly seasonal flu, healthy persons over the age of 65 are at less risk of H1N1 than those under age 65 and are advised to receive their H1N1 vaccine after the 25-64 year old age group has been vaccinated.

Should international travelers receive the H1N1 vaccine? There is limited data to support general vaccination of travelers.  However, should a traveler fall into one of the target groups mentioned above for receiving H1N1 vaccine, then they should be vaccinated. Meet with your travel doctor several weeks before your trip to discuss anti-viral medications if symptoms of influenza strike while you are abroad.  These medications have been shown to decrease symptoms of the flu, especially if taken within the first 48 hours of the illness.

Over 50 million Americans have contracted H1N1 so far.  Do you want to be on this list?


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