There are many dangerous diseases that you can catch while traveling internationally, but fortunately, vaccines are available for some of them. If you plan to travel to Asia, your doctor may recommend getting vaccinated for Japanese encephalitis. Here are four things you need to know about this vaccine.
What is Japanese Encephalitis?
Japanese encephalitis is a mosquito-borne disease that's related to dengue fever and yellow fever. There are major outbreaks of this disease every two to 15 years in affected regions. Most of the time, affected people just get a fever and a headache, but about 1 out of every 250 people will experience much more serious symptoms. These symptoms include neck stiffness, high fever, coma, seizures, and paralysis.
About 30% of people who develop the more severe form of the disease will die, while between 20-30% of survivors will suffer permanent intellectual or neurological problems.
Which travelers are at risk?
Travelers to South-East Asia or the Western Pacific may be in danger of contracting Japanese encephalitis. The risk is greater for travelers whose holiday plans will put them in close contact with mosquitoes, such as hikers, campers, or cyclists. Travelers who are staying in rural areas may also be at risk. Tell your doctor where you plan to go in Asia and what you plan to do there so that your doctor can assess your risk.
How is the vaccine given?
The Japanese encephalitis vaccine is given in two doses. The doses need to be given 28 days apart, and you need to get your second dose at least a week before you go on your trip, so make sure to plan ahead to leave yourself enough time to get vaccinated.
The only Japanese encephalitis vaccine that was approved for use in children in the United States is no longer being produced, so if you're bringing your children with you on your trip, they won't be able to get vaccinated. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that a new vaccine for kids is still several years away.
How else can you protect yourself?
Vaccines aren't 100% effective, so it's a good idea to take other precautions while you're on your trip. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants will make it harder for mosquitoes to bite you. Also, wear bug repellant that contains DEET, and at night, consider sleeping beneath mosquito netting. These strategies are even more important for children since they can't get vaccinated.
If you plan to travel to Asia or the Western Pacific, ask your doctor (like those at The Pediatric Center) if you should get vaccinated for Japanese encephalitis.