If doctors didn’t intend for vaccinations to cause panic, they shouldn’t have named them after something that could kill you. The difference in getting shots or getting shot is just a little letter, and let’s face it: Neither experience is a picnic.
ESL students must find this whole scenario confusing; if you say you’re going to get your shots, you either sound like you’re on your way to get tipsy or you are about to face a firing squad. Quite frankly, neither of the above are appealing. But traveling the world comes at a price, and vaccinations galore awaited me at the doctor’s office.
As a kid, I was super brave about shots. I always went first and never cried. Once I got to college, however, I started this weird thing where I pass out. Naturally, this was distressing. I had always mercilessly mocked girls who faint.
I researched to learn that my spontaneous lights- out episodes are vasovagal responses. According to the ever-credible wikipedia, “giving or receiving a needle immunization” and “watching someone experience pain” are common triggers–and things that bother me. I can count myself lucky, though…”hitting your funny bone,” “sudden onset
of extreme emotions,” “intense laughter” and “urination” can do it for other people. Stinks for them.
At any rate, I was dreading the possible plethora of shots awaiting me, so I decided to research the diseases I could contract if I didn’t immunized–a sort of cost v. benefit coping mechanism.
And so, for your reading pleasure…
What Martha Could Get if She Doesn’t Get Her Shots
1. Yellow Fever
If I get Yellow Fever, I could suffer from fever, chills, dizziness, vomiting, back pain, and nausea. If I was in the set of 15 to 25 percent of people who don’t recover initially, I could then progress to renal failure, liver failure, jaundice and hemorrhagic complications. From there, I could be one of the 20 to 50 percent of patients who die from the disease, most of whom die 7-10 days after their first symptoms; i.e. if I got it in Ghana, I could have a nice sea burial by the time we reach South Africa. A lot of damage from a mosquito bite. On the bright side, no one has ever gotten Yellow Fever twice. On the not-so-bright side, of the 9 U.S. and European travelers who opted not to get vaccinated and contracted Yellow Fever from 1970-2009, 8 died. In 2011, there have been Yellow Fever outbreaks in Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda and Brazil. I’m not even allowed on the ship if I don’t have my Yellow Fever vaccination card for entry into Ghana, an at-risk country.
Cost: $115, a live-attenuated virus vaccine and considerable inconvenience
Benefit: being allowed on the ship, not being paranoid about any insect that buzzes next to my head, not getting Yellow Fever
Decision: Sock it to me.
If I contract tetanus, infected spores will infiltrate my body through a cut. The spores will then turn into a poison that blocks signals from my spine to my muscles. According to the ever-optimistic CDC, “The spasms can be so powerful that they tear the muscles or cause fractures of the spine.” I would have approximately 7-21 days before effects could be seen. So, if I cut myself on something sharp at the orphanage in South Africa, I could be spazzing out by India (no pun intended). My symptoms would most likely start with jaw spasms (yours truly prefers the term “lockjaw”). Other side effects? Drooling, excessive sweating, uncontrolled urination or defecation, and irritability (really, CDC? Ya think it might make someone cranky to have those symptoms?) Without treatment, I would have a 25 percent chance of dying. The vaccine completely prevents tetanus. As a bonus, the vaccine also covers pertussis (whooping cough) now.
Cost: Notoriously stinging vaccine. Sore arm.
Benefit: No tetanus or whooping cough for me. Even better, no carrying whooping cough to little kids at the orphanages I’ll visit.
Decision: The picture that popped up when I googled tetanus settled this one for me:
3. Hepatitis A
I could get Hepatitis A by eating or drinking things contaminated by the virus. Fruits washed in Hepatitis A-laced water or ice cubes are common contaminants. I could also get it from contacting the body fluids of an infected people–even if they just forget to wash their hands and touch something. On the bright side, Hepatitis A is the least serious of its alphabet soup relatives. On the not-so-bright side, a bout with Hepatitis A would leave me with nausea, vomiting, jaundice, dark urine (ewww), “pale or clay-colored stools” (thanks for that sick description, CDC), fatigue and a fever.
Cost: $85, two vaccines, 6 months apart.
Benefit: Avoiding the Hepatitis A weight loss plan.
Decision: I got this one on Monday. I was surprised at how much it hurt. I bled quite a bit after, too. I only have time to get one of the two shots before I leave, so I’ll be partially covered. Jury is out as to whether I’ll get the other one when I get home in December.
4. Hepatitis B
If I get Hepatitis B, diarrhea, vomiting and pain could turn into liver damage, liver cancer and death, or I could be one of the many carriers who don’t seem ill (about 1.25 people in the U.S. are infected). Like its less-frightening cousin, Hepatitis A, I could get it by contacting body fluids, but probably wouldn’t know that I had been infected until three months later. Hepatitis B kills about 620,000 people globally each year. The vaccine is only recommended for certain countries, but I’m visiting several of them.
Cost: $70, series of several vaccines
Benefit: Loving my liver.
Decision: This one was made for me by my mother when I was about 8. We got shots before going to the Middle East. Turns out that this vaccine lasts long term. Thanks, Mom!
If I get rabies, I will probably feel like I have the flu for a few days. From there, things could rapidly deteriorate into hallucinations, insomnia, hydrophobia, confusion, anxiety and foaming at the mouth. Statistically, the chances for those who who get rabies are slim. According to the ever-cheery CDC: “Once a person begins to exhibit signs of the disease, survival is rare. To date less than 10 documented cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been reported.” To make matters worse, doctors would need samples of skin biopsies and spinal fluid to even diagnose the disease. Then I would need 4 shots to the deltoid to treat it. On the bright side, only 55 people in the U.S. have gotten rabies since the year I was born. Less comforting is the fact that 40,000 – 70,000 people die globally each year from the same disease.
Cost: Three vaccines over a span of time. 30-74 percent chance of a reaction.
Benefit: Not getting a terrifying (and utterly inelegant) disease. Not being afraid of every dog I see.
Decision: If I get the three shots now, I’m supposed to get two more if I become exposed to rabies. If I don’t get vaccinated and become exposed, I get 4 shots. 3+2=5 and 4+0=4. Think I’ll pass on this one.
I.E. Chicken Pox. Guess those pox marks are worth it! Varicella and I battled it out in preschool. I won. No vaccine for me.
If I get typhoid, I will probably be exposed to the nasty Salmonella Typhi bacteria through water or food. I will have a fever, feel sick and maybe get a rash. If the disease were to progress, I would suffer intestinal hemorrhaging, brain swelling and start some odd behaviors like muttering and grabbing at figments of my imagination. Without treatment, I would have a 30 percent chance of dying. Prince Albert famously left Queen Victoria in a continual state of mourning when he died of typhoid. In fiction, it nearly claimed Gilbert Blythe and killed Scarlett O’Hara’s mom and Jane Eyre’s parents.
Cost: $70 for an oral version or the vaccine
Benefit: Not joining the ranks of the famous victims of typhoid.
Decision: Getting it. Especially if I can get the oral version.
There’s also malaria medication to take and few less common vaccines that are bound to come up at my next appointment. I’ll soon be more full of holes than a pin cushion.
All joking aside, however, aren’t we grateful that we live in a country with so relatively few health concerns? Getting vaccines is a reminder of just how good I have it. I did a fast google search of “what shots should I get before I visit the United States?” You know what I came up with?
photos from : Wikipedia,http://downdogblog.trmccallister.com/?paged=9, http://blogs.webmd.com/eye-on-vision/2008/02/,http://sjaejones.com/blog/2010/literary-crushes-part-ii/, http://scienceblogs.com/bioephemera/2010/12/a_brief_history_of_anti-vaccin.php, http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/citizensoldier/conflicts/spanam/heatyellowfever.cfm