No, not that kind of drug and not that kind of shot. These are the travel medicine kinds of drugs and shots.
So first, when I was talking to my niece about firming up the plans for South Africa, I told her I would have to get all the necessary medical stuff taken care of. She blithely informed me that she had had all that done last year when she went to Ghana on a humanitarian mission (she is a Ph.D. audiologist; her father, my brother, is a medical doctor; they’ve done many humanitarian missions over the years). Well, unfortunately, I didn’t go to Ghana last year, so I had to find myself a travel doctor.
Now the first thing you have to realize is that, no matter how good your insurance is, it probably won’t pay for immunizations and the like that are exclusively for travel purposes. I haven’t quite figured that out. If I came back from Africa with typhoid and malaria, they would treat it like any other claim. But they won’t pay much less to prevent typhoid and malaria? Sigh… nobody ever said insurance had to make sense.
The next thing anybody should do when contemplating a trip like this is drop in to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and, particularly, its Travelers Health section. There, under Destinations, there’s a list of every conceivable place you might want to travel with the CDC’s recommended pre-, during and post-travel care. Fortunately, the recommendations for South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all the same.
First, you need to get up to date with routine vaccinations. Okay, so I’m 15 years overdue for tetanus, diptheria and pertussis. What the heck… that’s only one shot. Measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), varicella (chickenpox): been there, done that, usually more than once. (I have five brothers and two sisters and I was born before 1957. If you think I didn’t have every childhood disease known to man, you have another think coming.) Besides, it sounds better to think I have immunity than to think I’m too old to have the vaccine recommended. I’ve already had the one adult booster for polio that’s recommended, and we won’t be staying in Victoria Falls long enough for me to need another meningitis dose.
Then the hepatitis stuff. Hep A could be spread through food or water and I’m the type never to remember not to get ice in my drink, so yep, gotta have that one. I’m not at risk for Hep B in the usual ways (I’m not planning to start a torrid affair with someone who might be infected and I don’t share needles) but with my luck I’d get hit by a bus, need a blood transfusion and pick it up that way. So yep, gotta have that one. Fortunately, they put the two into a single vaccine shot, so we’re now up to two.
Typhoid gets spread through food or water, and I still won’t remember to leave the ice out, so yep, gotta have that one. That’s three.
Rabies. Rabies? What the heck…? Isn’t that something like a bunch of ultra-painful shots in your stomach??? Time to consult Dr. Google. Okay, nope, it’s not that bad. It’s still a whole bunch of shots (three in 28 days) but it’s intramuscular. But rabies? Really? I emailed Grant. His reply: “Does occur here on isolated occasions, just don’t bite any dogs and you will be fine.” Since I have yet to bite a dog, I’m nixing that one.
Okay, now what?
DRUGS! Two in particular. One to prevent malaria. You get the prescription for that one, and start taking it just before you leave and continue for a week after you get back. The other one to treat … ahem … well … traveler’s diarrhea. Otherwise known by an appropriate local name (Montezuma’s Revenge in Mexico, Delhi Belly in India, and the like). An antibiotic to add to Imodium or whatever similar over-the-counter thing you use.
Next: finding a doctor who will give you all this stuff. Some people are lucky. They live in states or counties or cities where there’s a good local health department that does this. I’m not one of them. So I used the links on the CDC website to locate a doctor in my area. Turns out that there’s an International Travel Program at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, not too far from my home.
The doctor, Daniel Hart, is — as usual — way too young to be a medical professional. (Why is it that the older I get, the younger the doctors are? I mean, I don’t mind young doctors, but I’d like them to look like they’re old enough to have graduated from high school…) He also seemed surprised that I had done my homework, read through the CDC website, and knew what I needed. Hey, I may not be a member of Generation X or Y or whatever, but Dr. Google and I are very good friends…
So I’m now almost fully shot up (I need one more Hep A-Hep B shot before I go, plus another to complete the series in six months) and have my malaria and antibiotic prescriptions. Now, of course, I have to remember to fill them, and to start taking the malaria pills before I leave, and…