Travel to India: vaccinations and staying well

Vaccinations

It can be a minefield trying to figure out what vaccinations you need. And this is more difficult when you don’t know exactly where you’ll be travelling to.

The first thing you’ll need to check, is that your standard vaccines for life in Britain are all up to date. You can find general info on vaccinations for India on the NHS’ fit for travel site.

NHS Choices provide good information on what you can get for free and what you’ll have to pay for. Here’s the summary:

Free immunisations on the NHS

  • Diphtheria
  • Polio
  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B (only when combined with Hep A)
  • Typhoid
  • Cholera

Private prescription needed

Your NHS nurse can administer the following vaccines, but you’ll need to order them from a chemist and take them to your appointment.

Rabies: £40 – £60 per person, per jab (you need 3)

We decided to get immunised so that we can get bitten by dogs, bats, monkeys, or cats without concern 🙂

Here’s a map showing areas at risk of rabies:

A global map showing rabies risk
Global rabies risk, 2013

Japanese Encephalitis: £70 per person, per jab (you need 2)

We’d never heard of this one (and it’s so funny to hear Janine try and pronounce it). It’s spread through mosquitoes and prevalent around rice growing areas. The fit for travel website states that 30% of those who show symptoms of the illness, die. So we didn’t hesitate!

Total cost – £290 😮

Shop around for these vaccines! Call a selection of pharmacies and ask for a quote. Smaller, independent ones can knock off some of the commission they charge, whereas the bigger ones—Boots and Lloyds—told us they can’t.

We’ve since found out that these vaccines would have been available in India for a fraction of the price. We haven’t verified this, but could be worth investigating if money is a primary concern. Just be aware that some vaccines need time in your body before they are protective.

How quickly can you get immunised?

We had little time before we left the country, so pressed the nurse into figuring out a way to get this all done inside 6 weeks. She was really good and worked it out for us. She spread out 10 vaccinations each, with the minimum gap between multiples of the same. All within 28 days. Perfect! We just need to get boosters after 12 months for a couple of them.

Our vaccination schedule:

Our vaccination schedule
An intensive course of vaccines – 28 days

Malaria and dengue fever considerations

After reading a lot of scary stuff all over the internet, we got fairly concerned about the risk of malaria and dengue fever. They can be fatal. Also:

There is no vaccination for malaria or dengue fever.

The best thing you can do, is prevent mosquito bites in the first place.

We try to avoid putting anything into our bodies that isn’t natural or necessary, so antimalarial tablets are not ideal. As we could be in Asia for an extended period, it doesn’t seem a good idea to take tablets every day when they don’t actually prevent or cure malaria. All they do is lessen the effect, and you’d need to get medical attention regardless.

Our plan of action… if we go into an area of high risk, we’ll get tablets out there (from a respectable pharmacy). The risk of malaria in the areas we are initially visiting is low, so we can rest easy. As for dengue fever, prevention doesn’t exist.

Malaria risk map

Map of India with malaria risk overlaid
India malaria risk map, May 2015

Bite prevention

We don’t want to get bitten up regardless of whether or not disease is associated. This is what we’re doing to avoid it:

  • spray clothes with Lifesystems Ex4 Permethrin Treatment and try to keep skin covered
  • buy mosquito repellent for exposed areas (we’ve been told you can buy natural stuff in India – we don’t fancy DEET)
  • kill nearby mosquitoes before going to sleep and sleep under a net

Immune system preparations

People get ill when in India. It’s just a fact. The water is different, standards are not what we’re used to, and you have to be mindful at all times. Even expats who’ve lived there for years get unlucky sometimes.

The only thing you can do is reduce risk where you can, and keep your body in peak condition. This way, if you get a bug, your body is in a strong position to ward it off. Based on our research, this is what we’d suggest:

  • Take water purifying tablets (for when we’re out there and want to drink water or wash vegetables)
  • Take Raw (organic, unpasteurised, unfiltered) apple cider vinegar. A few teaspoons per day will balance the pH in your body to boost your immune capabilities. It’s also reported to give quick relief to an upset stomach as it kills bacteria. We’ll let you know!
  • Cut down sugar intake (it suppresses your immune system). We’ve had 4 sugar free days per week for a month before we travel (it’s not been easy but we feel powerful!).

Got any other tips/experience to add? Hit me up in the comments

Comments

  1. sara says

    hi Lyden
    good summary.
    I agree with you on all of it. It is especially important not to get bitten by mosquitoes. In my experience, repellants don’t work even with DEET. Covering up, particularly at dawn and dusk, is the best policy. Sleeping under a net is important. Make sure that it is impregnated with anti mozzie stuff and that it is all tucked in. The little Bs will find any hole!
    I would suggest that you take antimalarials when you go to high risk areas as however unpleasant the pills are, generally, malaria is worse!
    Finally, be very suspicious of fever, even well after your return. Always ask yourself and the medics whether it could possibly be malaria. We don’t always think about it enough and a reminder is helpful.
    Stay safe and healthy!

    • Lyden says

      Hey Sara,

      Great to hear from you, and thanks for joining in! People seem to have mixed experiences with DEET repellents, so we’ll give it a shot and see how we fare. Bugs always tend to go for my pasty skin and (self-proclaimed) pure blood, so I know I’ll need to take all the precautions I can.

      Anti-malarials are a definite for us when we go to a high risk area. And yes we’re with you—malaria is worse than pills! We’ll keep aware of any fevers that may arise too. Thanks for the advice.

    • says

      Great, informative article guys 🙂

      A few more things as I understand them:

      Eating plenty of Marmite is supposed to deter insects from biting you.

      Also, all the rabies vaccination does is buy you an extra 24 hours from when you’re bitten. If you get bitten by a rabid animal without the vaccination you have 1 day to get to medical care before it takes hold. If you’ve had the vaccination, that time is extended to 2 days. If you get bitten, always seek medical help, whether you’ve had the jab or not.

      • Janine says

        I’m bitten all over the place after a couple of days, but Lyden has nothing! I think it’s the vitamin B2 which helps protect against bites, might look for some B complex tablets if I don’t find Marmite in India.

        Good point about Rabies. I think we’d get medical attention straight away if we got bitten, but I had no idea that the vaccine only bought you more time. Lyden will update the post, in case people don’t read into the comments. Thanks for the info 🙂

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