Long Journey Begins With Visit to Clinic, Shots

As part of my job as a communications officer for Latin America and the Caribbean I routinely travel to the field. This time around I’ll be visiting CRS programming in the Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Haiti.

In the next 17 days I’ll meet street children, visit schools, talk with Haitian refugees, spend a few days at hospices and clinics that treat people who have been diagnosed with HIV. I’ll go to the market with local growers, and travel to the Guyanese jungle where Amerindian children are being given access to the internet. I’ll travel along dirt roads and urban freeways. But like all journeys with CRS, the trip begins with a visit to the Johns Hopkins Travel Clinic.

I was greeted at the clinic by an efficient medical provider carrying an armload of documents for me. I was given several print-outs on preventing malaria and dengue fever, along with travel advisories by the World Health Organization (WHO). A quick scan of my vaccination history and the advisories for each country I’ll be visiting and it’s determined I need yellow fever, typhoid, and tetanus shots. I was inoculated against Hepatitis A and B around 10 years ago and should still have the antibodies in my system.

Three small quick painless needle jabs and my defenses have now been fortified. A bottle of 27 malaria pills rattles in my bag. Each day at noon I must take one in order to fight off the disease. I’m warned against getting manicures or tattoos on my travels which might expose me to certain forms of hepatitis

I’m also warned against approaching any animals – even pets. Rabies can take as long as 7 years to incubate and it’s prevalent where I’m headed. Most pet owners in the developing world don’t have their animals vaccinated. Last year WHO documented 55,000 human deaths worldwide as a result of rabies. If I see a bat flying in my room, I’m told, head straight for the clinic and begin a rabies regimen. Their bites can be invisible to the eye, but can still be lethal.

As I check out I buy a bottle of insect repellant and a bag of rehydration salts. I have my yellow vaccination card which I’m told to staple on the last page of my passport. There are some countries that won’t you allow to step foot on their soil without it.

All I have left to do is pack, wait for my 5 a.m. Super Shuttle pick-up in the morning, take a 7 hour plane ride and my real journey begins.

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