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Vaccinations You May Need Before You Travel to Africa

by Elaine Clara Mah

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As you pack for your next vacation out of town, you start running through your checklist. Listed among your comprehensive list are the essentials, which normally include clothes, toiletries, phone chargers, medications, passports and travel documents. But in your packing frenzy, you may have overlooked the most important thing you might need on your trip, especially to Africa. Vaccination.

When planning a safari to Africa, one of the most commonly asked questions is whether it’s safe. The answer is yes, if you exercise the same kinds of precautions that you normally would when traveling to anywhere in the world. This means to always be on the safe side and have your vaccinations up to date! What kind of shots do you need before going to Africa? While the list of vaccinations that one can take is long, here are the few that may be more important than others. Before getting any of these shots, do consult with your doctor to see if they are suitable for you.


Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa
Image credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Yellow fever is a viral disease typically found in Africa and South America. It is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Yellow fever is named as such due to jaundice being a symptom for some patients in which their skin turns yellow. Yellow fever is endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa and is a particularly persistent problem in West Africa,  the latest issue being the outbreak of the disease in Angola in 2016.


Symptoms of Yellow Fever

Once contracted, common symptoms of yellow fever include fever, muscle pain, backache, loss of appetite and nausea. The symptoms will normally stay for up to 4 days before disappearing.

However, some patients enter a second phase within a day of seemingly recovering from the initial symptoms. At this point, symptoms will include high fever, jaundice, and bleeding from the mouth, nose and eyes. Only a small number of patients enter this second phase, while most patients experience only the first phase of the virus.

There is no specific anti-viral drug used for the treatment of viral fever – only rest, adequate fluids and painkillers are administered. Hospitalization is highly recommended so that patients receive the essential supportive care.


Preventing Yellow Fever


Yellow fever can be avoided by receiving a single dose of the yellow fever vaccine. The vaccine is very safe and can be administered to individuals over 9 months of age. There is usually no need for a booster dose of this vaccine as one dose is effective for life. However, some countries may require that you receive a booster dose before entering, so do check before you travel.

You can also take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites on your trip by using insect repellent, and being extra cautious in the daytime, as that is when the Aedes aegypti –the mosquito that transmits the yellow fever virus – feeds. Where possible, stay indoor in air-conditioned spaces during peak feeding times to minimize the risk of being bitten. If you are out on a walking safari excursion, be sure to wear appropriate clothing, covering as much as your body as possible.



Distribution of Endemic Malaria
Image credit: MALARIA.com

Malaria is a dangerous disease caused by blood parasites that are transmitted to individuals through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Though often avoidable, malaria results in death when not treated quickly and effectively. Malaria is found all over the world but affects Africa relatively worse than anywhere else. In 2015, approximately 88% of all malaria cases occurred in Africa. However, the situation is improving rapidly with nearly 700 million cases being prevented in Africa since 2000 thanks to the concerted efforts of health organizations and NGOs alike.


Symptoms of Malaria

Symptoms of malaria develop 10 days to four weeks after being bitten. Individuals will typically develop high fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain and diarrhea. In severe cases, malaria causes coma and death, though both outcomes are highly preventable.


Preventing Malaria

There is currently no vaccination that guarantees complete protection against malaria. However, it is highly recommended that you take along with you antimalarial medication when traveling to Africa. Antimalarial drugs inhibit parasite development in red blood cells. The medication should be taken before, during and after your visit to a Malaria risk area.

It is also important to note that mosquitoes carrying malaria feed at night so do take extra precautions between dusk and dawn. During these hours, stay indoor in air-conditioned areas. If you are on a camping safari, use mosquito nets that are treated with Permethrin. Use insect repellent and wear clothing that covers most of the body.



Typhoid fever
Image credit: Health Zone

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection caused by consuming contaminated food or water. The disease is common in the developing world, affecting over 20 million people annually. Improper water sanitation (water contamination), the presence of flies and poor hygiene habits causes the bacteria to spread, typically from person to person.


Symptoms of Typhoid

Typhoid symptoms begin with fever, headache insomnia and constipation. If left untreated, individuals often develop sustained fever, delirium, rose spots on the lower chest and sometimes pneumonia. By the third week, patients who are left untreated may develop bleeding in the intestines, dehydration acute bronchitis. The fever will usually start to resolve by the end of the third week.


Preventing Typhoid

Clean water

When traveling to Typhoid risk countries, opt  for a typhoid vaccine. There are currently two types of typhoid vaccines available – an inactivated vaccine administered through an injection and a live vaccine that is taken orally.

It is also important that you practice good hygiene habits and be careful of what you eat and drink while traveling. Avoid uncooked meat, salads and contaminated water. Buy bottled water or boil your water before you drink it.


Hepatitis A

This viral liver disease caused by the Hepatitis A virus is spread when a person consumes food and water contaminated by feces of an infected person. Like typhoid, it is usually caused by poor hygiene, improper handling of food and inadequate sanitation.


Symptoms of Hepatitis A

People infected with Hepatitis A may suffer from fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea and nausea. Adults are more likely to experience more symptoms and the disease is more severe in older people. The illness can last between one week and several months.


Preventing Hepatitis A

Practice good hygiene

A Hepatitis A vaccine is available for individuals over 12 months of age. The Hepatitis A vaccine provides long-term protection against the virus and is usually given in two doses.

Other than vaccination, practicing good hygiene by frequently washing you hands with soap and water and drinking previously boiled or treated water will help reduce the risk of contracting the disease.


It is important to note that none of the above-mentioned diseases and illnesses is of high risk to travelers in Africa. They are, however, recommended as a safety precaution in case of extraordinary circumstances. With these precautions, you can be sure that you will have an exciting and worry-free adventure in Africa!

Vaccinated and ready to go? Start your African wildlife adventure on a safari trip in Uganda!

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