As I prepare for my trip to Zimbabwe, one of the things that I had to do is get a number of immunizations and vaccines. I knew I had to do this, so a few weeks ago I scheduled an appointment with the Guilford County Department of Public Health. My appointment was yesterday. Note: Although the purpose of this post is to educate anyone that might be traveling overseas, and to Zimbabwe in particular, I am also writing it for other members of the team that is going on this trip, so I’ll be including a lot of details that will be only of interest to them.
When I made my appointment, I called the High Point office of the Guilford County Health Department (because neither Randolph nor Davidson county do this), and they advised me that they only do the shots in the Greensboro office. The office is at 1100 E. Wendover, and it’s pretty easy to find. Take the 29 North Exit then exit on Wendover West. Turn left onto Lindsay Street. Go to the first stoplight and turn right onto Bessemer Avenue. Turn right onto Westside Drive. You will see the number “1100” on the building. When you make your appointment, go ahead and ask them to send you the forms via email—this will save you some waiting time after you get there. There will still be two forms that you will have to fill out in the office though.
My nurse was named Vonda and she was an incredibly friendly and enjoyable person to work with, unlike many of the other people I’ve encountered in the health care profession who seem to only be there for a paycheck. Vonda seemed to have a genuine interest in ensuring that I had a pleasant—and very healthy—trip. If you happen to see her, tell her that I said, “Hello.” She even laughed at some of my jokes, which is always a good sign. My total visit was just a little over an hour, so don’t think that you’re going to get right and out quickly. The shots themselves probably take only about 1 minute, but the rest was education and explanation, of which Vonda did an excellent job. I had a lot of questions so I’ll try to explain a lot of things here.
On this first visit, I got four shots, and one prescription. My total cost was $508. I also have two follow-up visits that will be $171 each, so my total cost for immunizations is going to be $850, which is a little more than the $500-$600 that I was expecting. I’ll explain these costs in a moment.
The four shots that I got were for: yellow fever-$100, polio booster-$43, typhoid-$75, and hepatitis A and B (Twinrix)-$98. I got 19 doses of Malarone for malaria for a total of $95. The office visit was $63, and the cost for the shots was $44—they charge you an extra $22 on the office visit if you get one shot, and $44 if you get two or more. I didn’t need Chicken Pox because I had the disease as a child, and I didn’t need a tetanus shot because I had one last September. Rabies is optional, and even if you’ve been immunized, they still recommend post-exposure prophylaxis, so it seems best to just wait until after you’ve been bit and deal with it. Let’s take a look at each of these in a little more detail.
Yellow Fever vaccine isn’t required for travel to Zimbabwe. However, because we will be landing in Niarobi, Kenya, and spending the night there, we have to have it. The vaccination is good for 10 years.
The polio booster is a one-time thing that we need and is good for the rest of our life. Sure, we all got one as a child, but apparently that wears off and we need an adult booster.
Typhiod vaccine is good for two years. There are two options for this: the injection-$75, or oral medication-$54. With my schedule, I thought that it was worth the extra $21 to not have to remember to take the pills. I’ve forgotten how many doses are in the oral medication.
I did the Twinrix shot for Hepatitis A and hepatitis B. This is a combination shot for both. There are 3 shots as part of this. I need to go back in 30-days to get the second one, and then in six months for the last one. (Yes, I know that the trip will before the last shot, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem.) The immunization lasts for life. The cost of each shot is $98. When I return for my second and third shots the office visit will be $51 with an extra $22 because I’m getting a shot. That brings the cost of each of those visits to $171. I could have gotten separate shots for hepatitis A (2 shots) and hepatitis B (3 shots) for $89 each, but that would have turned out to be much more expensive in the long run.
There are three options for Malaria. They are all pill options and are taken before, during, and after the trip. I chose the Malarone pills which was $95 for 19 pills. I’ll start taking them one a day, beginning the day before I leave, and then continue taking them for 7 days after I return. I don’t remember the names of the other options, but they were $83 and $14. These options had greater chances for side effects and also longer dosage schedules. I opted for the Malarone for both of these reasons.
They also give you a yellow card that has your immunization record to keep with your passport. This may be needed if you’re chosen for a random screening as you go through customs. Without the proper immunization record, some countries won’t allow you to enter.
They warned me that I might feel a little sick today, but I seem to feel fine. The only side effect for me was some insomnia last night, which they had also warned me about.
Vonda was really good in giving me some extra tips as well. Here are her tips that I wrote down, and that I remember:
- Take plenty of Imodium A-D for diarrhea.
- Only drink bottled water.
- Take Gatorade powder packets to mix with bottled water. We’ll be seating a lot and will need this for a boost.
- Take peanut butter crackers, peanuts, trail mix, and other snacks that we know we can stomach because our stomachs will be off schedule by several hours and the diet there will be quite different as well.
- Don’t eat any salads or uncooked fruit and vegetables. They will have been washed with the local water which may make us sick.
- Make sure that anything you eat is cooked well and still piping hot when served.
- In a restaurant, ask for cold canned soft drinks, and wash the can with bottled water before drinking from it. Along these lines, don’t drink anything with ice in it because the ice will be made from local water.
- Don’t eat or drink any diary products unless we purchase them in a store, they are sealed, and they say that they have been pasteurized.
- Go to Gander Mountain or Dick’s sporting goods to buy our insect repellant. Tell them we’re going to Zimbabwe and we need something really strong. She actually gave me a sheet explaining products with DEET and how to use them safely.