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(Steen Wackerhausen/Thinkstock)
(Steen Wackerhausen/Thinkstock)

I want a last-minute beach vacation. Do I really need vaccinations? Add to ...

The question

I can't take it anymore: I want a beach vacation - and I want to leave this week, on a last-minute sale to escape the cold. What vaccinations really matter? What can I do to minimize my risk for diseases?

The answer

Getting sick while traveling can certainly put a damper on the relaxation planned so I'm impressed you’re thinking ahead for a healthy trip.

Ideally, you should review your health needs at least a month or two prior to leaving on a trip to allow sufficient time to get any needed vaccinations completed.

That said, even though you're leaving within the week there's still some preparation you can do prior to leaving:

Take food and water precautions: Traveler's diarrhea is unpleasant and avoidable with a couple of easy tips. If you're traveling somewhere where it is unclear if the water is safe, drink strictly bottled water.

Watch out for ice cubes too unless they are made with distilled water. Contaminated food that isn't boiled or cooked can also harbour bacteria that can make you sick. For fresh fruit and vegetables, eat those you can peel and avoid the skins.

Get vaccinated: Depending on where you're traveling, different infections can be endemic or very common. Prior to traveling, check out the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website for country specific recommended vaccines or travel advisories. In general, it can take time for vaccines to take effect to help your body build immunity. Plan to get vaccinated about 4-8 weeks prior to leaving.

If you're leaving in a shorter period, there are some accelerated options that you can use to get some coverage before you leave. In addition to the travel vaccines of Hepatitis A and B, it would be prudent to update your tetanus vaccine and get the flu shot if it’s flu season when you’re traveling.

Protect yourself from bug bites: If you’re going to an area that malaria or dengue are present, use insect repellent with 30 per cent DEET. Wear long pants and long sleeves to avoid bug bites and sleep with a bed net if malaria is a concern.

Take a small first aid kit: Minor cuts, scrapes, skin infections and diarrhea are common and can be managed with some over-the-counter medications so pack a small pack with some of these important supplies so you’re not left without or have to pay high fees. Consider bandages, antibiotic ointment, pain killers such as Tylenol or Advil, anti-diarrheals and something for nausea.

Sleep and eat well while traveling: Maintaining your regular schedule may be difficult but eating well, hydrating and getting good rest will help combat jetlag, keep your immune system strong and help you stay healthy during and upon your return from your trip.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at doctor@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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