Do I need to get vaccinated for Thailand?
Unless you are traveling from or through a country which has been declared a yellow fever infected area, there are no vaccinations or health certificates required to enter Thailand. However, it is advisable to be up to date on routine vaccinations for polio, tetanus, chicken pox and the flu when traveling to any destination. In addition, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend immunization against hepatitis A and typhoid for most travelers to Thailand. In certain cases, you may also want to consider vaccination for hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, malaria and rabies.
This article provides an overview of some known diseases in Thailand and important precautions that all travelers should take. However, it does not replace the advice of a doctor. The risk of getting a disease depends on a variety of factors: the destination and duration of your trip, your activities, local sanitary conditions, exposure to animals and of course your overall health status. Ideally, you should consult your doctor 4-6 weeks before the trip to ensure that you have all necessary vaccines and medicines depending on your individual needs.
That being said, it’s good to know that life-threatening diseases are quite rare in most cities and tourist spots in Thailand. Moreover, you will find adequate medical care in both urban and rural areas, though the health care providers may not always speak English.
Common diseases in Thailand
Diarrheal diseases such as cholera are predominantly caused by contaminated food and water and very common in Asia. However, they are also easy to prevent with good hygiene practices (see precautions below).
Typhoid is a bacterial infection that often spreads with unsafe water and food. The symptoms can evolve from an overall feeling of sickness to severe conditions if left untreated with antibiotics.
The dengue fever is a mosquito-borne tropical disease for which there is no cure. It is widespread in rural areas during the rainy season and can be fatal in some cases. Thailand registered more than 50,000 infections in 2017. The best way to avoid the dengue fever is to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
Japanese encephalitis is a viral disease that can attack the brain. It is often transmitted by mosquitos at night during the rainy season. The doctor may recommend the vaccine if you are planning to visit rural areas or spend a lot of time outdoors.
Hepatitis A and B are viral infections of the liver. The CDC and WHO recommend vaccination for most travelers against hepatitis A and also against hepatitis B if you are staying for an extended period.
Rabies is not a major risk but still exists in Thailand. It may cause an inflammation of the brain and is often the result of scratches or bites by an infected animal. If your trip involves trekking in the Thai countryside, it is advisable to get pre-exposure vaccination for this disease.
Health precautions to prevent diseases
As you can see, there are diseases in Thailand which are mosquito-borne or caused by poor sanitary conditions. However, you can protect yourself effectively by applying the following precautions:
- Cover your skin with long sleeves and pants to avoid mosquito bites.
- Use mosquito repellents, especially at night (and don’t forget to apply on legs and feet).
- In rooms without air conditioning or in rural areas you should sleep under a mosquito net.
- Drink only safe and bottled water, no tap water, and avoid ice cubes in rural areas.
- When it comes to food, remember the following rule: Cook it, boil it, peel it or forget it!
- When you have seafood, always make sure it’s well cooked.
- Always wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating.
- Equip yourself with a small medical kit which includes medicine for gastro, pain, fever, coughs, wounds and colds.
A reliable method to prevent illness in Thailand is to get vaccination. You should review your travel plans and your tolerance level with a qualified doctor who has an expertise in travel medicine. Allow sufficient time as some vaccines may require multiple injections or they may not be readily available.
While some diseases have no cure, there are simple steps that you can take to lower your risk of exposure. Be sure to use mosquito repellents and practice good hygiene!
Finally, I strongly recommend getting travel insurance that covers urgent medical expenses including repatriation costs during your stay in Thailand.