If you’re off to the Philippines, it’s probably not at the top of your to-do list to check in with your doctor and get vaccinated. If you’re American, British, or Australian, you most likely won’t be required to get any vaccinations. However, you might want to anyway - the Philippines has many different islands with ecosystems, climates, and germs unique to them. Following are some best practices around vaccinations and keeping healthy while you’re on your trip to the Philippines.
You might confuse these three terms with each other, but really they're three separate medical terms. Immunisation is the overall process of becoming resistant to an infectious disease. Sometimes, it’s by purposely exposing yourself to a very small amount of this disease, so that your body builds up a tolerance.
The way you'd do this is through getting a jab, or shot, that carries a vaccine. This process of vaccination helps you to build up an immunity to whatever disease you’re vaccinating against. Immunisation might require just one shot, or require several shots over a certain amount of time. Some vaccinations are given annually, like the flu, while others can last for a decade, such as the yellow fever vaccine.
You should consider getting vaccinated when you’re traveling because it’s a proven method of fighting against infectious disease. When you travel, you hope to stay healthy but your body is more vulnerable than usual as it’s exposed to new climates, foods, germs, and bacteria that you’re not used to. Vaccinations can help acclimate you to these germs in a controlled, gradual way. Your body can then create antibodies to protect itself against the disease.
Vaccinations weren’t always required, but countries began requiring them and recommending them once they understood how effectively they control the spread of certain illnesses. Vaccinations can help you so that wherever you go, you don’t bring back unwanted germs to spread to your own home community. Vaccinations protect you, but they also protect populations in your home environment, such as the elderly and babies, who don't have robust immune systems.
What are some recent disease or virus outbreaks in the Philippines or Southeast Asia that I should be prepared for?
The Philippines can be a hotbed for infectious diseases. Common ones to look out for there include dengue, cholera, typhoid, and leptospirosis. Most commonly, disease outbreaks come in the form of food-borne illness, like cholera, salmonellosis and shigellosis.
Within the last few years, the Philippines has been exposed to Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). This disease is very dangerous - 35% of the people reported to have it have died. The most common symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Sometimes pneumonia is also reported. You can lower the risk by washing your hands frequently and by avoiding contact with animals.
Zika virus is also a risk in the Philippines. If you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant soon, it’s best not to travel to the Philippines. Zika during pregnancy can be the cause of permanent, serious birth defects. All travelers should step up their battle against mosquitoes, by wearing long sleeves and using bug spray with DEET. Travelers should also use condoms during and immediately after their trip, so they don’t spread Zika through sexual transmission.
Go to your doctor’s about six weeks prior to your trip to make sure you’re up to date with all of your routine vaccinations, like measles-mumps-rubella (MMR). At that point, depending on your itinerary and individual circumstances, your doctor may recommend some additional vaccines. Most vaccines are given about four weeks from your date of departure.
Check out the following recommendations for vaccines for people who are traveling to the Philippines:
|Vaccine / shot||Required for any nationality?||Recommended For...||Reason|
|Yellow Fever||Yes, for anyone coming from these countries||Travelers who have been exposed to yellow fever in other countries||Yellow fever isn’t a risk in the Philippines, but the government requires proof of vaccination if you’re coming from a country with yellow fever risk (not including the US).|
|Malaria||no||Hikers and travelers spending a lot of time outside||You can avoid malaria effectively by being careful about mosquito bites, but you may want to be vaccinated if you’re spending extreme amounts of time outside|
|Rabies||no||Rural travelers, travelers who will spend a lot of time outside or with animals during their trips||Rabies can be found in mammals throughout the Philippines|
|Japanese Encephalitis||no||Travelers who will be in the Philippines for more than a month||Japanese Encephalitis is mosquito-born, so you may want to get vaccinated based on when and where you’re traveling within the Philippines|
|Hepatitis A||no||Most travelers||Hepatitis A can be contracted through contaminated food or water in any part of the Philippines|
|Hepatitis B||no||Travelers that will use needles, for example when getting a tattoo or piercing, or travelers that plan to have sexual contact with a new partner||Hepatitis B can be contracted through sex, contaminated needles, or blood.|
|Typhoid||no||Most travelers||Typhoid is contracted from contaminated food or water|
Between November and April there's a dry season in the Philippines. At this time, the mosquito population will be at a lower point. However, you’re never going to be entirely risk-free of exposure, no matter what time of year it is.
Therefore, you can take some precautions to lower your risk of exposure to disease and germs. Drink bottled, sealed water. Avoid ice, tap, and well water. You can also lower your risk of disease by avoiding lakes, ponds, and rivers, since schistosomiasis and leptospirosis can be found in fresh water. You should eat well-cooked food, and only pasteurised dairy products. Lastly, cover exposed skin, use mosquito nets, sleep in air-conditioning where possible.
If you experience an emergency in the Philippines, you can call the following numbers:
- 117 - the emergency network
- 02 911 1406 - the National Disaster and Risk Reduction and Management Council
- 143 02 911 1876 - the Philippine National Red Cross
- 163 - the Child Rescue Protection
- 02 711 1001 or 02 711 1002 - the Department of Health
- 02 511 1259 or 02 851 2681 - the Department of Social Welfare and Development
The Philippines can be a tricky place to visit if you’re being spontaneous about it. But with a little advanced preparation, you can lower your risk of picking up an unwanted disease. By practicing good hygiene and being careful, you’ll be free to just enjoy your Philippine adventure.