Health and Vaccination Information for Travel to Cambodia

From the architectural wonders of the Angkor Wat temple complex to the white sand beaches of Sihanoukville, at the heart of Southeast Asia, Cambodia has become an increasingly popular tourist destination, its affordable travel deals making this exotic destination accessible to a wide range of travelers. But exposure to such diverse nature and geography involves some health risks as well, and travelers who are thinking about a trip to Cambodia should be sure to consider the proper vaccinations, antimalarial treatment, and other health precautions beforehand, to ensure that their trip is a safe and enjoyable one.

The Center for Disease Control recommends that travelers to Cambodia be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B and typhoid. Those who plan to spend a lot of time participating in outdoor activities, including hiking, cycling, or working with animals, should also obtain a rabies shot. And for travelers who plan to visit rural or farming areas, or in periods of increased disease prevalence, the vaccine against Japanese encephalitis is also recommended. Before any trip abroad, travelers should observe that their routine vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio are current. This is particularly true with regard to the measles vaccine in Cambodia; while the measles is no longer an active disease in the United States, recent cases have been reported in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia, so have your physician check your custody records to determine whether you need a booster shot for measles or any of your other routine immunizations. Remember, most vaccines take four to six weeks to travel through the bloodstream and be fully effective, so plan ahead!

Malaria is present in most areas of Cambodia, excluding the temple complex at Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, and Lake Tonle Sap, so if you plan to visit an area in which you could be exposed, you should check with your family doctor about an antimalarial drug regimen. It is important to share your specific travel itinerary with your provider, as certain strains of malaria in Cambodia may be resistant to some drugs. And, like the vaccinations, antimalarial drugs may need a few weeks to take effect, so be sure to book an appointment with travel clinic in advance.

The CDC recommends procuring enough antimalarial drugs to last your entire trip, as antimalarial drugs manufactured abroad are not measured by FDA standards and may contain contaminants, produce dangerous side-effects, or be alike ineffective. The CDC recommends avoiding foreign antimalarial drugs, particularly Halfan, unless you have been diagnosed with malaria and have no other treatment options. The same holds true for any other routine prescriptions you may need, as well as over-the-counter pain, anti-nausea, and allergy medication; quality and availability may vary, particularly in rural areas, so it's best to pack what you need for your own stay.

Other diseases present in Cambodia for which there are no available vaccines include dengue, filariasis and plague, all of which are transmitted by insect bite. The CDC suggests preventative measures like using insect repellent, mosquito netting, and wearing long-sleeveless clothing, to protect against infection. Some cases of avian flu have been reported in both birds and humans in Cambodia and around Southeast Asia, so the CDC recommends avoiding contact with the local bird population, including poultry farms and markets selling live birds. Waterborne illnesses such as schistosomiasis and leptospirosis are also found in Cambodia. Travelers can steer clear of these diseases by avoiding swimming in fresh water, and using iodine tablets to purify untreated drinking water.

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