The open sea offers vast opportunity for travel far beyond the lifestyle or dreams of most land-based people. A five-star superyacht is a sheltered existence from many of the diseases which flourish in some far-flung destinations, but there will always be trips ashore and holidays after a busy charter season, when the backpack beckons.
Before striding out into the wider world, by whatever means, it's possible to minimize the risk to health by taking some sensible precautions. Most of our travel enquiries come from yachties about to backpack for months in developing parts of the world and it is important to make prudent risk assessments at the begining of the trip and not be put off by the numerous hazards listed on travel websites.
Many developed countries have comprehensive public immunization policies and these cover conditions such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, tuberculosis, some forms of meningitis and pneumonia. Most yachties from this type of background do not need many, if any, reinforcing boosters for these conditions in adult life, but it’s always worth getting a record of childhood immunizations for future reference. Keep it up-to-date as life goes on and as other more exotic diseases become a threat.
Having said all that, some additional immunizations, such as those listed below, are particularly useful for those blessed with wanderlust.
Hepatitis A is an unpleasant viral infection of the liver caused by poor food hygiene, which can lead to jaundice as well as several weeks of wearisome illness. A single injection of vaccine provides early cover and a second booster injection within six to twelve months may provide indefinite cover.
Hepatitis B is similar to hepatitis A but is more severe and can lead to liver failure. It is blood-borne, but can be passed via other intimate body fluid contact such as unprotected sex. Initial immunization requires a course of three injections, ideally over about six months but this can be shortened – protection can be long-term, especially for younger people and a blood test can indicate the need for any further boosters.
Typhoid – This bacterial causes torrential and life-threatening diarrhoea and is caused by poor sanitation and poor food hygiene. A single injection of the vaccine protects for three years and there is now an oral vaccine, which protects for five years. These days typhoid can also be treated with antibiotics (ciprofloxacin).
Yellow fever – Some countries require a valid certificate of immunization on arrival. Be aware that sometimes the vaccine only is available at a few centres. One injection of vaccine is effective for ten years.
Rabies is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal and can be passed through a scratch, bite or a lick on the eye. Rabies becomes fatal once the symptoms appear so it’s very important to check the itinerary against up-to-date travel advice before setting off. This travel check is useful for immunizations against other less well-known diseases such as Japanese B or tick-borne encephalitis.
Malaria – A vaccine is currently under trial in East Africa and the race is on to launch an effective vaccine in the next couple of years before the new drug-resistant malaria parasites spread from South East Asia. There are various strains of the malaria parasites and the more aggressive can lead to long term recurrent symptoms and some can be fatal. It’s better to avoid mosquito bites, but also reinforce personal care with prophylactic medication specific to the intended itinerary.
Up-to-date travel information, country by country, is freely available on the web. The US Government site is www.cdc.gov and the UK site is www.fco.gov.uk.
Dr. Ken and Dr. Rosemary Prudhoe are based at Club de Mar, Palma de Mallorca. Ken is the MCA approved doctor and they both teach the MCA medical training courses. Visit www.clubdemarmedical.com