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Staying Healthy: Public health officials urge vaccine awareness before international travel

Take a lot of pictures, leave the deadly diseases

Prior to travel, any expert globetrotter knows to write up a checklist preparing for the journey ahead, and that any checklist worth its salt should include things like a camera, sunscreen, toothbrush, and of course, up-to-date vaccinations.

With schools letting out for the summer, many Tri-Valley families will be heading to vacation destinations all across the world. But with world travel comes a certain amount of preparation, particularly when traveling to places with heightened cases of potentially dangerous diseases.

It is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that travelers talk to their doctors about travel immunizations at least four to six weeks before departing on a trip in order to receive information about recommended medicine and vaccinations.

"Travel medicine and travel vaccines are really important," said Amy Pine, Alameda County Public Health Department's director of immunization. "We definitely recommend full measles disease protection for all travelers."

Pine said that while there are a variety of diseases that travelers should be aware of, recently the measles virus has made a particularly concerning resurgence, and the United States is currently seeing its highest number of measles cases in 25 years.

"We have sent several announcements lately to various audiences (schools, providers, employees) about the importance of anyone traveling this summer, especially internationally, to have two doses of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, which is the measles vaccine," she said, adding that each documented case of measles in the Bay Area -- cases have recently been documented in Berkeley, Livermore and Walnut Creek -- have been associated with international travel.

Measles is so serious that, according to Contra Costa County Health Services, if one person has it, an estimated 90% of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected. And an infected person is capable of spreading the disease to others before showing any symptoms.

Common symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a rash.

Pine also recommended that residents who are unsure of their vaccination status should speak with their doctor or simply receive another dose of MMR, which she stresses is perfectly safe to do.

At the moment, measles can be found on every continent, however travelers should be aware it is most common in the Philippines, Israel, India and the Ukraine, according to Contra Costa officials. While of particular concern this year due to the high number of cases reported, measles is not the only disease travelers should be aware of.

Malaria, for example, is still a danger in large areas of Africa and South Asia as well as parts of Central and South America. The CDC also noted that Zika can still be found in some South American and Southeast Asian countries.

Alameda County Health Services doesn't have a designated travel vaccination clinic within its public health services, but travel vaccines can be found by making an appointment with your local doctor or by taking a trip to the travel clinic in Contra Costa County.

"Measles is a serious disease," said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County's health officer. "It's critical to get vaccinated, both to protect ourselves and the people in our community who can't receive the vaccine for medical reasons."

The Contra Costa Public Health Travel Clinic is located in Martinez at the Vista Oaks Occupational Health Clinic, 10 Douglas Drive, Suite 110, and available by appointment only so be sure to call ahead at 313-6488.

At the travel clinic, physicians can give recommendations on what vaccines may or may not be needed depending on where the patient is traveling, as well as administer vaccines.

Prices vary depending on the vaccinations required, but patients in need of the MMR vaccine should know that it costs $160 for two doses -- vaccination requires two doses administered over a period of one month. Contra Costa Health Plan members can receive shots as a part of their plan.

Malaria prescriptions and medications are not provided through the county clinic so residents in need of them will need to make an appointment with their own health care provider prior to traveling abroad.

More information on recommended vaccines for travelers heading to specific countries can be found on the CDC website at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel.

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