As new tropical diseases with strange names like “chikungunya” and “zika” pop up in the news every now and then, many travelers are wondering just how safe it is to vacation to the Caribbean. Also, are vaccines required for Caribbean travel?
The short answer for most travelers from the United States, Canada, and Europe is no, not usually. However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does recommend certain vaccines for the Caribbean. In addition, the CDC website states, “You should be up to date on routine vaccinations while traveling to any destination.”
However, keep in mind that the CDC issues travel notices for certain countries on occasion. Use this link to browse through current travel notices about disease outbreaks and precautions to take in foreign countries. In addition, you can search by country name to see if there are any current warnings for the Caribbean country you wish to visit.
Researching the vaccines required for Caribbean travel
If you want to find out which vaccines are recommended for the Caribbean country you want to visit, simply go to the CDC website and select your country from the pull-down list. You will see three lists: one with recommendations for all travelers, one for most travelers, and one for some travelers. The reason why the vaccines needed may be different from one person to the next is because those with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems have a larger risk of contracting viruses.
In addition, the vaccines you may need are based on where you are going, how long you are staying, and what you will be doing. For example, according to the CDC, rabies is present in bats in Aruba, but it is not a major risk to most travelers. Therefore, the CDC recommends the rabies vaccine only for travelers who are going to be involved in outdoor activities in remote areas (such as caving), or for researchers who will be working with or around bats.
One more thing to keep in mind is that vaccination requirements sometimes change based on the country you are arriving from. For example, if you want to go to the Bahamas, you must have proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.
Know before you go!
Part of planning the perfect Caribbean vacation is making sure you’re in good health to go, and that you’ll stay that way! Visit your doctor at least a month ahead of your trip to find out what vaccines he or she might recommend for you. Be sure to communicate in what area you’ll be staying, in what type of accomodations, and what kind of activities you’ll be doing. That way, your doctor can make recommendations based on your specific case, and not just on general information.
As far as research goes, be sure to obtain up-to-date information through official government sites only. Beware of outdated internet articles that may contain outdated or incorrect information about immunizations required for Caribbean travel.
Common vaccines required for Caribbean travel
Although the immunizations required for Caribbean travel vary by country, most Caribbean nations share similar recommendations.
According to the CDC, all US travelers to any country should have their routine vaccines up to date. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, and the polio vaccine.
In addition, there are several other vaccines recommended for the Caribbean, including:
- Hepatitis A. Travelers can get this condition in the Caribbean from ingesting contaminated food or water. Since tap water in most Caribbean countries is undrinkable, foreign visitors are at risk of Hepatitis A. It usually doesn’t matter whether you are in the city or in rural areas.
- Typhoid. This is another disease spread through contaminated food or water. It is easy to contract, but also easy to prevent. Talk to your doctor to see if the typhoid vaccine is recommended for you.
- Hepatitis B. This disease is spread through sexual contact and needles. Therefore, the Hepatitis B vaccine is usually recommended for those travelers who might have sexual contact with someone new, get tattoos, or have medical procedures done.
- Rabies. Rabies can be found among bats and a few other animals in the Caribbean. However, this vaccine may be unnecessary if you won’t be around bats or working with animals during your vacation. As always, discuss your personal case with your doctor.
- Yellow fever. Most Caribbean countries have no risk of yellow fever. However, as of 2019, Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago are on the CDC list of countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. In most cases, you will not need a vaccine for yellow fever for the Caribbean, unless you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission. Consult CDC.gov for up-to-date information.
Staying healthy in the Caribbean
As helpful as they can be, vaccines aren’t a cure-all for every ailment. They can’t protect you from every single disease or health condition, so your behavior while visiting the Caribbean is key.
All travelers should take certain precautions in the Caribbean, regardless of the country they come from. These involve the following:
- Being careful about food and drink. Many Caribbean countries do not have drinkable tap water. Always ask whether it’s safe before drinking. Try to avoid food from street vendors, raw or undercooked eggs, unwashed raw fruits and vegetables, undercooked meat or fish, and ice made with tap water.
- Avoid touching or feeding animals. If an animal bites or scratches you, wash the area right away and consult a doctor right away.
- Wash your hands often. Bring small bottles of hand sanitizer to keep in your backpack or purse in case soap and water aren’t available. Always wash your hands before you eat, and avoid touching your face.
- Limit your alcohol consumption do not accept alcohol or food from people you don’t know. Avoid drugs and sharing of bodily fluids.
- Use bug spray and netting to prevent mosquito bites. Mosquitoes spread diseases like zika and chikungunya.
For more advice about avoiding sickness during your trip, see 8 Tips for Staying Healthy While Traveling in the Caribbean.
Main image credit: CHAIKETSIAM/SHUTTERSTOCK