When planning a trip to Zambia, it's important to familiarize yourself with the CDC's recommended list of vaccines, along with the World Health Organization's explanation of what these diseases are. This should be done at least four to six weeks prior to your trip. Always consult with your doctor to determine what is best for your individual medical situation.
Routine Vaccinations for All Travelers
Many children already received these vaccinations, which has helped prevent the spread of various illnesses and conditions within the United States. Traveling to foreign destinations may mean a higher risk of diseases where locals are not vaccinated regularly. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all travelers to Zambia be up to date on routine vaccines. Some routine vaccinations are further highlighted by the CDC as higher-risk diseases and illnesses, so it's important to familiarize yourself with all categories of recommended vaccinations.
Routine Childhood Vaccines
Some of the routine childhood vaccines include:
- Hepatitis B
- DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis)
- Hib (Haemophilus Influenzae Type B)
- MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)
- Hepatitis A
- HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
Adult Routine Vaccines
Even some vaccines you received as a child might need to be updated as an adult, like a flu vaccine. You should also consider a tetanus booster every 10 years. Adult routine vaccines can include:
- Td (Tetanus, Diphtheria)
- Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis)
- Hepatitis A and B
Vaccinations for Most Travelers
It is recommended that most travelers to Zambia should consider getting the following vaccines prior to departure because there is some risk of infection.
- Hepatitis A: The CDC recommends the routine Hepatitis A vaccine because you may contract it through contaminated water in Zambia, no matter where you are staying. Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness.
- Malaria: Malaria is a risk in Zambia. You'll need to take prescription medicine before, during, and after your trip in order to prevent malaria. The potentially life-threatening disease is caused by parasites that are transmitted through infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Symptoms often present within 10-15 days after the infected mosquito has bitten you. The first symptoms, like fever, headache and chills, are often mistaken for something else. If you've traveled to a destination where malaria is present, you've been bitten by mosquitos and start to develop symptoms, get to your doctor immediately as malaria can lead to severe problems, including death in some patients.
- Typhoid: Contaminated water or food in Zambia is where you should be concerned when it comes to typhoid contraction. The CDC recommends this vaccine for travelers who are visiting smaller cities and rural areas, are staying with friends or family, or are adventurous eaters.
Vaccinations for Some Travelers
These recommended vaccines are on a case-by-case basis. You should consult with your doctor on where exactly you are going, how long you are staying, what you plan to do, and also if you are traveling to/from any other countries outside of the United States.
The CDC recommends the cholera vaccine for travelers visiting an area of Zambia that has active cholera transmission. They note that many people don't travel to the affected areas, but it's worth talking to your doctor as some health factors may increase your risk of contracting cholera. Avoiding unsafe food and water is one way potentially to prevent a cholera infection.
Passport Health USA notes that a recent cholera outbreak in Zambia accounted for more than 1,000 confirmed cases alone, so it's worth discussing with your health provider on where exactly you plan to travel in the country. Cholera is an acute disease involving diarrhea, which shouldn't be taken lightly as it can kill some patients. It can take between 12 hours and up to five days before a person shows symptoms after ingesting the contaminated food or water.
Hepatitis B is a routine vaccination that some travelers want to consider. Travelers who are considering getting a tattoo or piercing, may be getting a medical procedure, or may be having sex with a new partner are at risk for Hepatitis B in Zambia. Hep B is spread through sexual contact, contaminated needles, or blood products. Hepatitis B attacks your liver and can cause both acute and chronic problems.
Dogs, bats, and other mammals in Zambia may carry rabies. The CDC recommends the rabies vaccine for certain types of travelers. These include:
- Those involved in outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, biking, caving, and other types of adventure travel where the risk of animal bites is higher
- People who plan to be around or work with animals, like traveling veterinarians, wildlife professionals, and researchers
- People who plan to take long trips or move to Zambia
- Children, because the risk of children playing with animals is higher, they also may not report any bites, and there is a higher likelihood they may get bit on the head or neck
Rabies is found worldwide, except for Antarctica, and it has the potential to be fatal in most cases. The World Health Organization notes that over 95% of human deaths resulting from rabies occur in Africa and Asia.
Yellow fever is not one of the most recommended vaccines, but the CDC suggests some travelers may want to consider it if they are staying in a region where they are heavily exposed to mosquitos or plan to be in Zambia for an extended period. If you happen to be traveling to Zambia from another country outside of the US, familiarize yourself with what countries are at risk for the yellow fever virus. If you are traveling from one of these countries, the government of Zambia requires proof of a yellow fever vaccination.
Yellow fever is a viral hemorrhagic disease with symptoms that include fever, headache, jaundice (hence the name), muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. A small portion of patients can develop severe symptoms, with approximately half of those dying within seven to ten days. Initial symptoms can disappear within three to four days, but some patients will enter a more toxic phase of symptoms within another day. High fever can return, and yellow fever can affect other systems, like your kidneys and liver. This is where patients usually show signs of jaundice, dark urine, and abdominal pain with vomiting.
Non-Vaccine Preventable Diseases
While no vaccines are available, the CDC warns against a variety of other preventable diseases and illness that are present in Zambia.
- African Sleeping Sickness (African Trypanosomiasis): Travelers who spend more time outdoors or visit game parks are at risk (urban areas are excluded). Tsetse flies spread this disease and are known to bite during the day. They are attracted to both bright and very dark colors, so wear neutral-colored clothing. They can bite through lightweight clothing.
- African Tick-Bite Fever: Travelers visiting Zambia during the warmer months and going game hunting should try to avoid bug bites as much as possible.
- Chikungunya: Mosquitos carry Chikungunya and can bite both during the day and at night, indoors and outdoors.
- Dengue: While not a lot of data exists, the CDC notes that experts believe Dengue to be a risk as well. Dengue is also transmitted by mosquito bites and travelers can be at higher risk in urban and residential areas.
Staying Safe in Zambia
In general, exposure to some diseases and illness can be minimized by taking proper precautions. Carefully examine water and food sources, always opting for bottled water. This includes brushing your teeth from the sink and drinks that have ice cubes. Also, mosquitos are one of the main carriers of a number of diseases, so bringing ample insect repellent and dressing in protective clothing can go a long way in helping reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases.