With concerns about tropical diseases on the rise, travelers planning to venture to the many islands that dot the Caribbean Sea often wonder if vaccinations are required. In the simple legal sense, no. No vaccinations are required to leave the US and visit this nearby region. However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency charged with protecting health and preventing the spread of infectious diseases, recommends many varieties of vaccines.
The government-funded public health agency maintains a useful Travel Health website that lists up-to-date information on tropical diseases throughout the Caribbean region, organized and customized by country and territory. Regardless of which destination is listed, from Anguilla to the Virgin Islands, the CDC provides a general and common sense warning: “You should be up-to-date on routine vaccinations while traveling to any destination.”
This is a good sensible idea for travelers of all types, whether they are heading for a weekend or a few weeks or more. Although you should see a doctor, such vaccinations may include the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine; diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine; chickenpox vaccine (chickenpox); polio vaccine; and the annual flu shot.
Hepatitis A and Typhoid
A more specialized recommendation for the region is to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid fever, since the pathogens can be found in contaminated food and water.
Hepatitis B, Rabies and Yellow Fever
Hepatitis B and rabies can be worrisome for some travelers engaged in specific activities, such as getting tattoos or exploring caves that are frequented by animals such as bats, but not for general vacationers. The most specific concern is the limited presence of yellow fever in Trinidad and Tobago due to its proximity to South America; Disease vectors have been identified in the island twin republic.
Consult the CDC page for each separate island or archipelago on your itinerary to make the appropriate plans. It is updated throughout the year and even has a handy checkbox tool to identify what kind of trip you are planning, from traveling with kids or on a cruise to studying abroad or visiting family.
Zika and malaria
There are Zika and malaria concerns in the region. However, neither has a vaccine available, but both can potentially be avoided by following specific precautions, especially malaria with doctor-prescribed preventive drug regimens. The CDC website also offers extensive information on these two diseases, including maps of where they occur throughout the Caribbean.
General ways to avoid illness
Additionally, the CDC offers general region travel tips to reduce the chance of being infected by pathogens beyond getting vaccinated:
- Eat and drink safe foods
- Avoid contact with animals.
- Reduce your exposure to germs
- Avoid sharing bodily fluids
- Avoid non-sterile cosmetic or medical equipment.
These guidelines are a good idea for traveling in any tropical country.
The website also offers a physician view, with information presented in a practical way as a reference for medical professionals. It is also an interesting read for the laity. To get an idea of what is advisable throughout the region, you can switch between destinations such as Aruba, Bonaire, Martinique, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
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