A first timers guide to South Africa. What you need to know before you go.

Part 1 – Why am I getting these vaccinations? Oh no reason…

On a safari, you try to spot the big five:
Lions, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, Water Buffalo
Before you safari, consider the medical “big five:”
Tetanus, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, HEP A/B, Malaria pills.

Now keep in mind: You are not necessarily going to need all of these pills/shots and vaccinations for your trip, but if you need something, it will likely be among these five. Some of these shots can be claimed through your insurance for a low co-pay. Other shots, however, are obviously travel related and will require paying out of pocket. If the shot is covered, do not put anything in writing that says you need these shots for travel. 

Now I know what you’re thinking. Who cares if I am getting the vaccinations for travel? The answer is the medical insurance company, which often classifies “leisure travel” in a category that may not always meet the approved requirements for payment through insurance. You do not want to end up like our friend Matt and Vicky, who nearly did a full sprint out of the passport health travel clinic when they were informed that their out of pocket cost would be $1,200.

While insurance will make these shots more affordable, there will still be some portion of out of pocket cost. If you’re planning far enough in advance, we highly recommend you put an extra few hundred dollars into your flex spending to save even more on your uncovered medical expenses. So, let’s go through the shots one by one…

Tetanus shot- A shot that the average person should receive every ten years. Some individuals who work with heavy machinery or serve in the military get it every five years. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve had it, it’s likely that you haven’t had it recently.
Verdict: Get it! Insurance: Covered.

Typhoid- The typhoid shot was not covered by insurance but is recommended by the CDC for most travelers. We paid approximately $175 each for the shot and it lasts for two years. Verdict: Essential for safari and recommended for smaller cities or if you are an adventurous eater.  Insurance: Not covered.

Yellow fever- Our major fear was that this shot would be required due to our stopover  in Dakar Senegal (a nation with yellow fever,) but it turns out, our fears were  overblown. Many major international flights stop in Senegal to refuel and change crews and the waiver that our travel clinic presented us with was never actually needed.

Verdict- We didn’t need this shot and yellow fever is not common in most major African countries at this time. We still recommend you check with the CDC for any updates.
Insurance: Usually not covered.

Hep A, B-  Hepatitis A is recommended by the CDC for most travelers because “you can get hepatitis A through contaminated food or water in South Africa, regardless of where you are eating or staying.” Hep B is not essential, unless you anticipate having closer “contact” with the locals (how’s that for a family friendly euphemism) or plan to get a tattoo or piercing. Since, the shots were covered by insurance and our doctor mentioned that once you’ve got the vaccine and the required booster shots, you’d never need it again, we decided to go ahead and get it.
Verdict: Hep A – Certainly. Hep B – Meh. Insurance: Usually covered

Malaria pills- The fact that there is more than one type of malaria pill was news to us. We recommend taking the daily pill that you start taking two days prior to departure, while you’re there and for the following seven days after your return. There is also a weekly pill that has been reported to have the side effect of individuals having hallucinogenic reactions (not the good kind). Check with your doctor or pharmacist to verify before you start taking them.
Verdict: Essential for safari, but not required for major cities. Insurance: Usually covered.

Many of the other vaccinations, such as chicken pox, and MMR (measles, mumps rubella) are already given to most Americans as children. If you aren’t sure if you’ve had them, feel free to get your “Tithers” test, which determines previously major vaccinations.
The process seems like it can be daunting, but most people in our group only needed one simple stop at the travel clinic and another at an urgent care. Once we arrived, we had several experiences we will never forget and found South Africa to be one of our favorite trips of all time.

We hope this reference guide helps as you consider South Africa as an option. Please use this in addition to your other research and consult with your doctor for your specific medical needs.

– T & L

TTR Updates.pngIn part 2, we’ll go over the our itinerary and some key decisions to make as you consider your own visit to South Africa.

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