My mother-in-law once came back from Mexico with a nasty digestive bug that the doctor told her she would have had to lick a toilet seat to contract. We believe her when she says she did nothing of the sort, but ever since her experience, the family has been especially wary of travel-related illnesses. The gamut of potential maladies we will confront on the road is mindboggling: simple traveler’s diarrhea, typhoid, rabies, yellow fever, malaria, meningitis, cholera, hepatitis–the list goes on and on. Some are preventable with vaccines, but others can only be avoided through a combination of luck and common sense. One of the strangest aspects of our trip seems to be that as many of our friends are turning their homes into bird flu isolation chambers, we’re heading to the source of the world’s current public health bugaboo.
Having done all the relevant research, I turned to my doctor for advice on which vaccines to get. She just looked at me with a semi-vacant stare and gave me the number for a local travel clinic. I called the clinic and was told that for the low, low fee of $50, plus $25 for each additional member of my family, I would get a specialized report outlining all the CDC recommendations for the countries I’ll be visiting. Great! Have they heard of the internet? I’ve already built that same report on the CDC
website and obtained a copy of their guide for physicians called the Yellow Book. When I asked about prices for vaccines, my jaw dropped. Steep doesn’t suffice. To add further insult to injury, when I called my insurance company, they informed me that any immunizations for international travel will not be covered! I called the county health clinic in Utah where I’ve gotten travel shots in the past and found their prices to be much more reasonable. The fact that we can walk in instead of scheduling an appointment three weeks in advance is also appealing. Even so, when I did the math, I realized we could be spending up to $5000 on shots! Definitely something we had not included in the budget. We’ll probably drop rabies, which requires three shots each at $146 a pop. That’s $146 times 18!!! We would save about $650 if we ditch yellow fever, but I really, really want to go to Iguazu Falls in Argentina, which just barely bumps into the South American yellow fever zone. We’ll
have to think about that one.
No matter what we end up doing, I’ve decided meeting our travel health needs is a lot like buying an Oriental rug. Crafty purveyors prey on our ignorance while trusted sources don’t want to deal with a specialty they choose not to understand. I once bought a hand-tufted but mass produced Indian rug on one floor of the LA Mart for $500. Earlier that day another store owner on a different level had offered me the same exact rug from the same exact manufacturer for $2,500! Now I get all my rugs off of Ebay. Too bad they don’t sell vaccines.