Immunizations for (or in) Korea

Canada, England, the US, Australia and even Germany’s travel advisories (we checked) all recommend the following immunizations for South Korea:

  • HEP A
  • Typhoid
  • HEP B
  • Japanese Encephalitis
  • Malaria
  • Rabies

We went over South Korea’s health a little before. There we described what these illnesses/diseases can do to you. Here we wanted to look at risk management and options. Do you actually need many of these shots? (gasp, are we actually suggesting to ignore or disregard government suggestions!?) How expensive are theyand most importantly should you actually get them done in Korea?

Through our own curiosity we’ve researched what different travel advisories recommend, who did what and what some of the best options seem to be. We are obviously not doctors and can also not replace your own common sense. This is all just food for your own thoughts.

Hepatitis A

Risk Level: Medium

The Korea Times says

 More than 15,000 Korean people were infected last year, and the number of reported cases is increasing rapidly each year (7,895 cases in 2008 compared to 2,233 cases in 2007).

Most at risk in Korea:

  • 20-30 year olds
  • those in Seoul, Inchon and Geyongii Province (source).

Consequence Level: Low-Medium

Hepatitis A is a liver disease spread by contaminated food and water …   Some people have no symptoms, while others have symptoms that last 1-6 months. Most people recover with no lasting liver damage. (CDC )

Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A infection does not cause chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal, but it can cause debilitating symptoms and fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure), which is associated with high mortality. (WHO)

Immunizations: 2 Shots over 6 months. Our local clinic prices them at $50 a shot – so $100 total.

Alternatives: Keep in mind Hep A has had outbreaks in the United States, too. You can avoid it by following the CDC’s suggestions.

Easier to get inoculated in Korea?

Probably. It will still be 2 shots over 6 months but it should be cheaper than $100. A post from 2008 -(source)

  • Some posters said they spent 50 on each shot (so a match to US prices)
  • One poster said he spent $70 on each shot
  • One poster said he spent about $4 per shot.

In most cases you’re going to spend about the same amount. Maybe get the first shot now and then the second one after you get settled in Korea.

Typhoid

Risk Level: Low

Typhoid? Typhoid you probably don’t need to worry about. Although it is recommended, typhoid is pretty easy to treat…unless there is high antimicrobial resistance. So that’s a toss up too. If you’re going to be in clean hotels and eating in clean places, you probably don’t need it. If you’re going rural, or eating a lot off the streets or straying off the path, you might want to get it. (doctor’s quote on epinions)

Most at risk in Korea:

  • smaller cities, rural areas
  • street food
  • “adventurous eaters” says CDC

Consequence Level:  Low – treatable, but not always

Case-fatality rates of 10% can be reduced to less than 1% with appropriate antibiotic therapy. However, strains resistant to chloramphenicol and other recommended antibiotics … have become prevalent in several areas of the world. (WHO)

Immunizations: A single shot. Although it seems more common to take pills. 4 pills every other day – our clinic prices these at $85 for the pack.

It’s worth noting that “Typhoid vaccine is only 50%-80% effective, so you should still be careful about what you eat and drink.” (CDC)

Alternatives: Watching what you eat and drink. Follow the CDC‘s guidelines.

Easier to get inoculated in Korea?

Probably. Someone said they got it for free in Seoul near Dongdaemun Culture & History Park exit 13. (source)

Hepatitis B

It’s worth noting that this is a ridiculously common childhood shot-series. We got them when we were about 5 years old so you may already be vaccinated against this you just don’t know/remember.

Risk Level: Low

[Hep B] requires direct blood or bodily secretions contact so unless you’re a vampire, a sex fiend or you like to play with needles, you’re going to be fine. Also, according to the Korean doctor I spoke to said that every Korean child was immunized against Hep B for about 40 years so if you get it, it’s going to require a really weird set of circumstances. (source)

Most at risk in Korea:

You can get Hep B anywhere in the world at any time. So these rules apply to anywhere

  • those who have unprotected sex/new partners
  • dirty needles – tattoos, piercings, acupuncture
  • unscreened blood transfusions
  • medical procedures – unsterilized equipment, dirty needles

Consequence Level: Medium-high

Some people who get hepatitis B develop lifelong (chronic) hepatitis B. This can cause people to die early from liver disease and liver cancer. (CDC)

Immunizations: 3 doses, $50 per does. This is actually

Alternatives: Protected sex, careful attention at the doctors/dentists/tattoos/piercer/acupuncturists.

Easier to get inoculated in Korea?

Yes. It is very common. Some were able to get it for about $4 each. (source)

Japanese Encephalitis

Risk Level: Low

The chance that a traveler to Asia will get Japanese encephalitis is very small: 1) only certain mosquito species can spread Japanese encephalitis … among persons who are infected by a mosquito bite, only 1 in 50 to 1 in 1,000 will develop an illness … Only 5 cases among Americans traveling or working in Asia have been reported since 1981.  (source)

Here is a forum discussing the risks or benefits of getting inoculated.

Most at risk in Korea:

  • rural areas although Busan was at risk last summer
  • those who will spend time with pigs and/or in rice paddies
  • those who are outside at dusk or dawn (think those who are camping)
  • almost anyone exposed to mosquitos from May-October
  • those traveling to more at risk places like Indonesia or Thailand

Consequence Level: Mid-High

One third of cases recover without problems. One third of cases survive with serious neurologic after- effects such as paralysis or other forms of brain damage. Fatality rates are about 20% in children and more than 50% in adults. (source)

Immunizations: Expensive and Specific

You need a series of two shots spaced 28 days apart. The last shot should be at least one week before you leave. Later may need boosters to keep your immunity.

Each shot is around 250 USD.

Alternatives: Bug spray, protection from mosquitos, wear light colored clothes

Easier to get inoculated in Korea?

Yes. It is a common, some say too common immunization in Korea.

A post back in 2008 said

I am surprised you have not mentioned Japanese Encephilitis … as that is one of the most important. I am in the boonies of Korea (no joke, even Koreans haven’t heard of where I am) and managed to get Japanese E … Can be done in one shot here, I got mine for 30,000 won.  (source)

Seems easiest to just get it done in Korea. Keep in mind that the shot is not 100% effective and you should still protect yourself from mosquito bites.

Malaria

Risk Level: Low in South Korea.

There has not been a documented case of malaria in South Korea in 40 years. Winters here have a hard freeze that kills the mosquitoes (even Cheju Island, the Hawaii of Korea,) so it isn’t the issue it would be in a more tropical area. (source)

However North Korea has still not eradicated malaria, so…

Most at risk in Korea:

  •  Northern parts of South Korea (northern Gyonggi do, Incheon and Ganwon, as well as the DMZ).
  • Usually only from March-September. (source)
  • those who will be sleeping outside or camping in these areas.
  • those who will be traveling outside of Korea (check your destination before you go).

Consequence Level: Med-Low

Symptoms usually appear within in 7-30 days but can take up to one year to develop. Symptoms includehigh fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Without treatment, malaria can cause severe illness and even death. (CDC).

Immunizations: None. To be protected you will need to take pills

before, during and after your potential exposure.

Alternatives Protection from mosquitos -Bug spray, protection from mosquitos, wear light colored clothes

Easier to get protected in Korea?

If you feel you want to do something awesome, like camp almost near the DMZ in the summer (the most at risk times ever) and you’re concerned about the possibility of malaria I’m sure you could get pills.

Rabies

Risk Level: Low. A case was found last year, however, prompting some to wonder if it is an emerging issue because of raccoons/animals from North Korea spreading it.

Most at risk in Korea

  • those who enjoy volunteering in animal shelters  although many dogs seem to be vaccinated
  • those in Geyonggi and Gangwon – the only places to have incidents. (source)
  • Those who are traveling outside of Korea and plan on hanging out with animals – you’re probably going to want to touch that monkey.

Consequence Level: High. It is almost always fatal. 

Immunizations: Painful series of 3 expensive shots. Each shot is $230 each.

Alternatives: Don’t touch animals. Wash the area and seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten.

Easier to get inoculated in Korea?

Unknown

I know that getting the rabies (광견병) vaccine is quite a hassle in Korea as hospitals do not readily carry this. I can tell you from recent trips that Sinchon Severance, Ewha Womans Hospital and the International Clinic in Itaewon do not have this on hand. (source)

Parting thoughts

South Korea is not as scary as the CDC would have you believe. Most of a vaccinations you will need for here are ones you should probably have in the US or Europe. Probably the worst thing that will happen is you will come down with the worst cold you’ve ever had. It isn’t bird flu, it’s just a virus your immune system has never seen before. Bed rest and fluids will fix you up. To stave that off, wash your hands often and try not to touch your face. Simple enough. Believe me, South Korea is worth the head cold. (source)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s