If you’re planning a trip to Thailand you may be wondering what to do about travel vaccinations and antimalarial tablets. Before my Thailand holiday with my husband and two teenage children, I researched which jabs we needed, and whether or not we should take antimalarial medication. A few people have asked about what we did, so I thought that it would be helpful to share our experience here.
I’d like to make a couple of things clear at this point:
It’s your responsibility
Firstly, I have no medical training or qualifications. I went on holiday from the UK to Thailand, and before the trip I spent time working out how best to protect myself and my family against possible health risks. If you’re going to Thailand, or anywhere else, you need to decide for yourself which vaccinations and medication you need for your own trip.
Vaccines are a good thing
Secondly, I believe that vaccinations are safe and that they protect us from serious and deadly diseases. I also believe that each of us has a moral responsibility to be vaccinated if we can be, in order to protect those (such as young babies) who can’t be. If you’d like more information about why vaccines are so important, go to the excellent NHS website (and avoid anti-vaccine stories which aren’t based on scientific evidence). I’ve always made sure that my kids have all of the vaccinations which are offered in the NHS routine immunisation schedule, and I feel privileged to have access to this service.
Our Thailand trip
I’m happy to say that all four of us were well during our Thailand summer holiday. We started off with a few nights in Bangkok, then flew south to Surat Thani. We then spent four days in the rainforest at Elephant Hills tented camp, an ethical elephant conservation project. From there we drove to the coast and took a ferry to the island of Koh Samui, where we relaxed for a luxurious week by the beach at The Tongsai Bay hotel. We flew back to Bangkok from Koh Samui and spent a final night in the capital before travelling home to the UK. You can read all about our trip in my post Thailand with teenagers: a two-week summer itinerary.
Based on our itinerary, and after discussions with our local travel clinic and with my husband, I worked out that we needed to make sure that we’d had the following jabs. We were up to date with some of them, for others we needed boosters, and others we had for the first time. All four of us had (or made sure we were up to date with) all of these vaccinations in time for our trip to Thailand.
Tetanus, Diphtheria, Polio, Measles, Mumps Rubella
These vaccines are part of the NHS routine immunisation schedule. We checked that we were all up to date with our vaccinations against these diseases, which we were. If we hadn’t been, we could have asked to be vaccinated at our local GP surgery free of charge for these.
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by a virus. In rare cases it can be life threatening. You can get the infection from contaminated water or by eating food prepared by someone who’s washed their hands in contaminated water (amongst other ways). We had this jab at our GP surgery.
Typhoid fever is a highly contagious bacterial infection which can be fatal. You can catch this infection from consuming contaminated food or water, and even if you’ve had the vaccine you should avoid food and water which could be contaminated. We had this vaccination at our GP surgery.
Japanese encephalitis is a viral brain infection which is spread through mosquito bites. There’s no cure for this disease, and it can be fatal. It’s most common in rural areas in southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and the Far East. Apparently it’s rare in travellers but as we were camping in the rainforest during our trip we decided to have this jab. We paid to be vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis at our local travel clinic, involving two jabs, seven days apart, at a cost of £95 per dose.
This one led to quite a few discussions between my husband and me. Rabies is a rare but serious infection of the brain and nerves, and it’s caught by being bitten or scratched by an infected animal. It’s usually fatal once symptoms appear, so if you’re bitten or scratched by an animal in an area with a risk of rabies, you need to get medical help as soon as possible. We’re lucky in the UK that rabies has been eradicated (apart from in a few wild bats). As there is a risk of rabies in Thailand, and as we were staying in a rainforest in a remote part of the country for part of our trip, the kids and I definitely wanted to have rabies jabs (you need to have three over the course of three weeks). My husband didn’t think he needed to have protection against rabies, but we eventually persuaded him to go for it too. We had these vaccinations at our local travel clinic and they cost £65 per dose.
I spent some time looking into whether or not we should take antimalarial medication for the trip. Malaria is a serious illness which is transmitted by mosquitoes, and it can be fatal. My research told me that there was no risk of malaria in Bangkok, and that there was a very low risk of malaria in the other parts of the country that we were visiting. Antimalarial tablets can reduce the risk of malaria by about 90%, but they can have unpleasant side effects. As there was such a low risk, we decided not to take antimalarials, but to be very careful to avoid insect bites, especially at Elephant Hills. We checked that our tents had insect screens, and we never left the tents open. A couple of times a day we sprayed ourselves with insect repellent containing a high percentage of DEET, and we made sure that we had one bottle of insect repellent per person, so that it didn’t run out. We wore light trousers and shirts which covered our arms and legs to act as a barrier to insects. Happily none of us had any insect bites during the holiday.
Over to you
If you’ve been to Thailand, or if you’re going there soon, what travel vaccinations have you had? How about antimalarials? Do let me know if you have any questions about our experience.