Since Nigeria is on the radar for travel this year, I’ve been preparing for the trip in my usual way: checking to make sure my passports are up to date, trying to see if there have been any advances in fooling airport personnel into thinking 23kg worth of belongings only weighs 13kg, and of course loading up on medication and vaccines for the trip. Call me paranoid but I don’t like taking risks and the thought of falling sick and not being able to run to the hospital (or God forbid call an ambulance) is not how I roll. This is not to say that there aren’t excellent hospitals in Nigeria, but when you’re visiting and you’re depending on friends and family to drive you around, if you’re like me you might be hesitant to ask for help unless it’s a life and death issue because you don’t want to waste someone’s time, which might lead to you not getting the needed treatment. I’d also hate to waste someone’s time just in case my concern is a false alarm and I’ve heard that sometimes you have to bring what you need for your care with you to the hospital and for some reason that worries me. So I take precautions.
The thrifty side of me hates going to the travel doctor because it’s costly to minimize risks. Back in 2008, I received vaccines for the following:
- Hepatitis A
- Meningococcal Meningitis
- Typhoid Fever
- Yellow Fever (this is the only one that is an absolute requirement to enter Nigeria)
and I almost had to promise the doctor my firstborn child as payment!
The tetanus and Yellow Fever vaccines last for 10 years which is wonderful, but the others only last for 2-3 years, so pretty much before every trip I get the other vaccines. Malaria prevention is something everyone takes seriously, and we take a weekly pill of Mefloquine, starting one week before leaving, each week during the trip, then four weeks after returning. Thanks be to God my family members and I have yet to fall seriously ill.
This may be overkill, but I look at getting these vaccines as insurance. In Canada, car insurance is a requirement in order to drive your car. If you pay this insurance for years or decades even without ever having a car crash, you may think it’s ridiculous to continue to pay for something you don’t need. But those who have insurance and have had a car crash sure are glad they have insurance! I don’t even think about my insurance payments; it’s just the cost of having a car. The same is true of house insurance…as long as you never suffer a house fire you may think it’s wasteful to pay to insure a house. Apparently thrifty me sees this as the cost of traveling: when I’m vaccinated, I don’t worry as much about mosquito bites or drinking water of unknown origin. I’m still careful–I apply bug repellent and try to drink only bottled or boiled water–but sometimes laziness creeps in so it’s nice to have a backup working behind the scenes, especially for my mom who has some other health concerns that could make getting sick particularly bad for her.
One of the most frustrating things about me is I’m a real stickler for following instructions, especially when it comes to taking medication. When I was very young, I convinced my parents that I had poisoned myself because I had taken Tylenol every three hours instead of every four or something like that. Though they tried to reason with me, I was certain death was imminent and I made them take me to the emergency room! So you can imagine my horror when I realized that the cholera vaccine instructions said not to eat for one hour before and one hour after taking it, and I don’t think I heeded those instructions. And my precious malaria-preventing Mefloquine instructions say to keep it between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius, yet I left the pills in the car overnight at below zero for about 24 hours! I’m convinced I’ve rendered both useless and will now have to be extra careful…ok, now you can call me paranoid!
If you were born and raised in Nigeria, you probably don’t need any or all of the vaccines, as you may have developed immunity through possible exposure (I’m not saying that visitors to Nigeria will definitely come in contact with any of these illnesses, just that according to those maps they show you of outbreaks in various continents and countries, there appears to be a greater chance of coming in contact with some things in Nigeria than in the Canada, just like there are things that one is more likely to catch in Canada than in Nigeria). However I think if you’ve been out of the country for as long or longer than you’ve lived in the country, it’s a good idea to not take risks. Of course I’m not a doctor so I strongly suggest that anyone who’s wondering what vaccines they may need (if any) consult with a travel doctor. Yes, they charge and arm and a leg but I’d rather pay it than lose it (them) permanent as a result of meningicoccal meningitis (God forbid!).