General Information

Health Risks & Vaccinations

Last Updated:

Eliot C. Heher, MD

It’s critical that expatriates and their families learn about the specific health and security risks of their host country and obtain recommended vaccinations from a qualified physician, prior to leaving home.

Health Risks

Important questions regarding health and security risks include the following:
Are food and water borne diseases common? What precautionary steps should be followed?
Do insect borne diseases occur, such as Malaria, Yellow Fever or Dengue Fever? What steps should be taken to prevent these diseases?
Are there tick born illnesses present, such as Lyme Disease or encephalitis?
Is rabies common?
Is it safe to swim in lakes and rivers?
Is the political climate stable?
Is hostage taking common? Are Americans targeted?
Is there significant anti-American sentiment?
Vaccinations “…some vaccines require time to take effect and others require several injections over a few months.”

Expatriates should obtain recommended vaccinations from a qualified travel medicine physician or clinic, remembering that some vaccines require time to take effect and others require several injections over a few months. The travel medicine physician can also help the expatriate review the travel risks associated with their particular post. It’s also a good idea to confirm that standard vaccinations (such as tetanus/diphtheria, otherwise known as Td) are up to date. As one HTH participating physician put it:

“Routine vaccinations for children and adults should be checked. Often [prospective expatriates] do not receive their Td shots every 10 years because they are not routinely given in many countries.” HTH General Practice Physician, Paris.
Sometimes an expatriate can rely on his primary care physician to review health risks and administer travel related vaccines. In many cases, particularly when the expatriate’s post is geographically remote or the vaccinations complex, the expatriate is best served by consulting with a travel medicine specialist.

The HTH Expats site includes information about health and security risks, organized by country and destination. The Centers for Disease Control provides information about health risks.

Upon arrival in the host country, the expatriate should review local health precautions with a qualified physician, who is likely to be better informed about subtle differences in water quality and the incidence of certain diseases such as malaria.