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Gambia
Summary of recommendationsMedicationsImmunizations
Recent outbreaksOther infectionsFood and water precautions
Insect and Tick ProtectionSwimming and bathing precautionsGeneral advice
Medical facilitiesTraveling with childrenTravel and pregnancy
MapsEmbassy/Consulate LocationSafety information

 

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Summary of recommendations:

All travelers should visit either their personal physician or a travel health clinic 4-8 weeks before departure.

Malaria: Prophylaxis with Lariam (mefloquine), Malarone (atovaquone/proguanil), or doxycycline is recommended for all areas.
Vaccinations:

Hepatitis A

Recommended for all travelers

Typhoid

Recommended for all travelers

Yellow fever

Recommended for all travelers. Required for travelers arriving from a yellow-fever-infected area in Africa or the Americas.

Meningococcus

Recommended during the dry season (November through June)

Polio

One-time booster recommended for any adult traveler who completed the childhood series but never had polio vaccine as an adult

Hepatitis B

Recommended for all travelers

Rabies

For travelers spending a lot of time outdoors, or at high risk for animal bites, or involved in any activities that might bring them into direct contact with bats

Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)

Two doses recommended for all travelers born after 1956, if not previously given

Tetanus-diphtheria

Revaccination recommended every 10 years

Medications

Travelers' diarrhea is the most common travel-related ailment. The cornerstone of prevention is food and water precautions, as outlined below. All travelers should bring along an antibiotic and an antidiarrheal drug to be started promptly if significant diarrhea occurs, defined as three or more loose stools in an 8-hour period or five or more loose stools in a 24-hour period, especially if associated with nausea, vomiting, cramps, fever or blood in the stool. A quinolone antibiotic is usually prescribed: either ciprofloxacin (Cipro)(PDF) 500 mg twice daily or levofloxacin (Levaquin) 500 mg once daily for a total of three days. Quinolones are generally well-tolerated, but occasionally cause sun sensitivity and should not be given to children, pregnant women, or anyone with a history of quinolone allergy. Alternative regimens include a three day course of rifaximin (Xifaxan) 200 mg three times daily or azithromycin (Zithromax) 500 mg once daily. Rifaximin should not be used by those with fever or bloody stools and is not approved for pregnant women or those under age 12. Azithromycin should be avoided in those allergic to erythromycin or related antibiotics. An antidiarrheal drug such as loperamide (Imodium) or diphenoxylate (Lomotil) should be taken as needed to slow the frequency of stools, but not enough to stop the bowel movements completely. Diphenoxylate (Lomotil) and loperamide (Imodium) should not be given to children under age two.

Most cases of travelers' diarrhea are mild and do not require either antibiotics or antidiarrheal drugs. Adequate fluid intake is essential.

If diarrhea is severe or bloody, or if fever occurs with shaking chills, or if abdominal pain becomes marked, or if diarrhea persists for more than 72 hours, medical attention should be sought.

Though effective, antibiotics are not recommended prophylactically (i.e. to prevent diarrhea before it occurs) because of the risk of adverse effects, though this approach may be warranted in special situations, such as immunocompromised travelers.

Malaria in Gambia: prophylaxis is recommended for all travelers. Either mefloquine (Lariam), atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone)(PDF), or doxycycline may be given. Mefloquine is taken once weekly in a dosage of 250 mg, starting one-to-two weeks before arrival and continuing through the trip and for four weeks after departure. Mefloquine may cause mild neuropsychiatric symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, insomnia, and nightmares. Rarely, severe reactions occur, including depression, anxiety, psychosis, hallucinations, and seizures. Mefloquine should not be given to anyone with a history of seizures, psychiatric illness, cardiac conduction disorders, or allergy to quinine or quinidine. Those taking mefloquine (Lariam) should read the Lariam Medication Guide (PDF). Atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone) is a combination pill taken once daily with food starting two days before arrival and continuing through the trip and for seven days after departure. Side-effects, which are typically mild, may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, or dizziness. Serious adverse reactions are rare. Doxycycline is effective, but may cause an exaggerated sunburn reaction, which limits its usefulness in the tropics.

Long-term travelers who may not have access to medical care should bring along medications for emergency self-treatment should they develop symptoms suggestive of malaria, such as fever, chills, headaches, and muscle aches, and cannot obtain medical care within 24 hours. See malaria for details. Symptoms of malaria sometimes do not occur for months or even years after exposure.

Insect protection measures are essential.

For further information about malaria in the Gambia, go to the World Health Organization.

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Immunizations

The following are the recommended vaccinations for Gambia:

Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all travelers over one year of age. It should be given at least two weeks (preferably four weeks or more) before departure. A booster should be given 6-12 months later to confer long-term immunity. Two vaccines are currently available in the United States: VAQTA (Merck and Co., Inc.) (PDF) and Havrix (GlaxoSmithKline) (PDF). Both are well-tolerated. Side-effects, which are generally mild, may include soreness at the injection site, headache, and malaise.

Older adults, immunocompromised persons, and those with chronic liver disease or other chronic medical conditions who have less than two weeks before departure should receive a single intramuscular dose of immune globulin (0.02 mL/kg) at a separate anatomic injection site in addition to the initial dose of vaccine. Travelers who are less than one year of age or allergic to a vaccine component should receive a single intramuscular dose of immune globulin (see hepatitis A for dosage) in the place of vaccine.

Typhoid vaccine is recommended for all travelers. It is generally given in an oral form (Vivotif Berna) consisting of four capsules taken on alternate days until completed. The capsules should be kept refrigerated and taken with cool liquid. Side-effects are uncommon and may include abdominal discomfort, nausea, rash or hives. The alternative is an injectable polysaccharide vaccine (Typhim Vi; Aventis Pasteur Inc.) (PDF), given as a single dose. Adverse reactions, which are uncommon, may include discomfort at the injection site, fever and headache. The oral vaccine is approved for travelers at least six years old, whereas the injectable vaccine is approved for those over age two. There are no data concerning the safety of typhoid vaccine during pregnancy. The injectable vaccine (Typhim Vi) is probably preferable to the oral vaccine in pregnant and immunocompromised travelers.

Yellow fever vaccine is recommended for all travelers greater than nine months of age. The vaccine is required for all travelers greater than one year of age arriving from a yellow-fever-infected country in Africa or the Americas or from a country in the endemic zones. In the Gambia, yellow fever is reported in Upper River Division, but may occur elsewhere. A case of yellow fever was recently reported in an unimmunized Belgian tourist. See Eurosurveillance for details.

Yellow fever vaccine (YF-VAX; Aventis Pasteur Inc.) (PDF) must be administered at an approved yellow fever vaccination center, which will give each vaccinee a fully validated International Certificate of Vaccination. The vaccine should not in general be given to those who are younger than six months of age, immunocompromised, or allergic to eggs (since the vaccine is produced in chick embryos). It should also not be given to those with a malignant neoplasm and those with a history of thymus disease or thymectomy. Caution should be exercised before giving the vaccine to those who are between the ages of 6 and 8 months, age 60 years or older, pregnant, or breastfeeding. Reactions to the vaccine, which are generally mild, include headaches, muscle aches, and low-grade fevers. Serious allergic reactions, such as hives or asthma, are rare and generally occur in those with a history of egg allergy.

Polio immunization is recommended, due to the persistence of polio in sub-Saharan Africa. Any adult who received the recommended childhood immunizations but never had a booster as an adult should be given a single dose of inactivated polio vaccine. All children should be up-to-date in their polio immunizations and any adult who never completed the initial series of immunizations should do so before departure. Side-effects are uncommon and may include pain at the injection site. Since inactivated polio vaccine includes trace amounts of streptomycin, neomycin and polymyxin B, individuals allergic to these antibiotics should not receive the vaccine.

Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for travel during the dry season (November through June), especially if prolonged contact with the populace is likely. Meningococcal vaccine has few side-effects. Mild redness at the injection site may occur. Young children may develop transient fever.

Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all travelers if not previously vaccinated. Two vaccines are currently licensed in the United States: Recombivax HB (Merck and Co., Inc.) (PDF) and Engerix-B (GlaxoSmithKline) (PDF). A full series consists of three intramuscular doses given at 0, 1 and 6 months. Engerix-B is also approved for administration at 0, 1, 2, and 12 months, which may be appropriate for travelers departing in less than 6 months. Side-effects are generally mild and may include discomfort at the injection site and low-grade fever. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) occur rarely.

Rabies vaccine is recommended for travelers spending a lot of time outdoors, for travelers at high risk for animal bites, such as veterinarians and animal handlers, for long-term travelers and expatriates, and for travelers involved in any activities that might bring them into direct contact with bats. Children are considered at higher risk because they tend to play with animals, may receive more severe bites, or may not report bites. A complete preexposure series consists of three doses of vaccine injected into the deltoid muscle on days 0, 7, and 21 or 28. Side-effects may include pain at the injection site, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, dizziness, or allergic reactions.

Any animal bite or scratch should be thoroughly cleaned with large amounts of soap and water and local health authorities should be contacted immediately for possible post-exposure treatment, whether or not the person has been immunized against rabies.

Tetanus-diphtheria vaccine is recommended for all travelers who have not received a tetanus-diphtheria immunization within the last 10 years.

Measles-mumps-rubella vaccine: two doses are recommended (if not previously given) for all travelers born after 1956, unless blood tests show immunity. Many adults born after 1956 and before 1970 received only one vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella as children and should be given a second dose before travel. MMR vaccine should not be given to pregnant or severely immunocompromised individuals.

Cholera vaccine is not recommended. Cholera is not being reported from Gambia at this time.

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Recent outbreaks

A single case of yellow fever was reported in September 2010 in a man who lived in Senegal and had been fishing in the Tanji locality, on Gambia's Atlantic coast (see the World Health Organization). Yellow fever vaccine is recommended for all travelers to the Gambia.

A series of malaria cases, two of them fatal, was recently reported among European travelers to the Gambia (see TropNetEurop). None of the travelers had taken appropriate malaria medication. Malaria prophylaxis is strongly urged for all travelers to the Gambia.

An outbreak of meningococcal infections, resulting in 50 cases and 3 deaths, was reported in the first three months of 2002. In the previous year, an outbreak occurred in Upper River Division, resulting in 137 cases and 21 deaths. Meningococcal vaccine is recommended for travel during the dry season (November through June), especially if prolonged contact with the populace is likely.

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Other infections

Schistosomiasis may be acquired by swimming, wading, rafting, or bathing in contaminated fresh water. Swimming and bathing precautions are advised (see below).

A case of melioidosis was reported in October 2009 in a young male diabetic immigrant from Gambia living in Spain (see ProMED-mail, October 24, 2009).

Louse-borne relapsing fever has been reported in travelers.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection is reported, but travelers are not at risk unless they have unprotected sexual contacts or receive injections or blood transfusions.

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Food and water precautions

Do not drink tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered, or chemically disinfected. Do not drink unbottled beverages or drinks with ice. Do not eat fruits or vegetables unless they have been peeled or cooked. Avoid cooked foods that are no longer piping hot. Cooked foods that have been left at room temperature are particularly hazardous. Avoid unpasteurized milk and any products that might have been made from unpasteurized milk, such as ice cream. Avoid food and beverages obtained from street vendors. Do not eat raw or undercooked meat or fish. Some types of fish may contain poisonous biotoxins even when cooked. Barracuda in particular should never be eaten. Other fish that may contain toxins include red snapper, grouper, amberjack, and sea bass.

All travelers should bring along an antibiotic and an antidiarrheal drug to be started promptly if significant diarrhea occurs, defined as three or more loose stools in an 8-hour period or five or more loose stools in a 24-hour period, especially if accompanied by nausea, vomiting, cramps, fever or blood in the stool. Antibiotics which have been shown to be effective include ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin (Levaquin), rifaximin (Xifaxan), or azithromycin (Zithromax). Either loperamide (Imodium) or diphenoxylate (Lomotil) should be taken in addition to the antibiotic to reduce diarrhea and prevent dehydration.

If diarrhea is severe or bloody, or if fever occurs with shaking chills, or if abdominal pain becomes marked, or if diarrhea persists for more than 72 hours, medical attention should be sought.

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Insect and Tick Protection

Wear long sleeves, long pants, hats and shoes (rather than sandals). For rural and forested areas, boots are preferable, with pants tucked in, to prevent tick bites. Apply insect repellents containing 25-50% DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) or 20% picaridin (Bayrepel) to exposed skin (but not to the eyes, mouth, or open wounds). DEET may also be applied to clothing. Products with a lower concentration of either repellent need to be repplied more frequently. Products with a higher concentration of DEET carry an increased risk of neurologic toxicity, especially in children, without any additional benefit. Do not use either DEET or picaridin on children less than two years of age. For additional protection, apply permethrin-containing compounds to clothing, shoes, and bed nets. Permethrin-treated clothing appears to have little toxicity. Don't sleep with the window open unless there is a screen. If sleeping outdoors or in an accommodation that allows entry of mosquitoes, use a bed net, preferably impregnated with insect repellent, with edges tucked in under the mattress. The mesh size should be less than 1.5 mm. If the sleeping area is not otherwise protected, use a mosquito coil, which fills the room with insecticide through the night. In rural or forested areas, perform a thorough tick check at the end of each day with the assistance of a friend or a full-length mirror. Ticks should be removed with tweezers, grasping the tick by the head. Many tick-borne illnesses can be prevented by prompt tick removal.

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Swimming and bathing precautions

Avoid swimming, wading, or rafting in bodies of fresh water, such as lakes, ponds, streams, or rivers. Do not use fresh water for bathing or showering unless it has been heated to 150 degrees F for at least five minutes or held in a storage tank for at least three days. Toweling oneself dry after unavoidable or accidental exposure to contaminated water may reduce the likelihood of schistosomiasis, but does not reliably prevent the disease and is no substitute for the precautions above. Chlorinated swimming pools are considered safe.

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General advice

According to the U.S. State Department, "Travelers in possession of prescription drugs should carry proof of their prescriptions, such as labeled containers. Police have been known to arrest foreigners carrying unlabeled pills. For a complete list of prohibited items, please contact the nearest Gambian embassy or consulate." If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to carry a physician's letter documenting their medical necessity.Pack all medications in hand luggage. Carry a duplicate supply in the checked luggage. If you wear glasses or contacts, bring an extra pair. If you have significant allergies or chronic medical problems, wear a medical alert bracelet.

Make sure your health insurance covers you for medical expenses abroad. If not, supplemental insurance for overseas coverage, including possible evacuation, should be seriously considered. If illness occurs while abroad, medical expenses including evacuation may run to tens of thousands of dollars. For a list of travel insurance and air ambulance companies, go to Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad on the U.S. State Department website. Bring your insurance card, claim forms, and any other relevant insurance documents. Before departure, determine whether your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures. The Medicare and Medicaid programs do not pay for medical services outside the United States.

Pack a personal medical kit, customized for your trip (see description). Take appropriate measures to prevent motion sickness and jet lag, discussed elsewhere. On long flights, be sure to walk around the cabin, contract your leg muscles periodically, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent blood clots in the legs. For those at high risk for blood clots, consider wearing compression stockings.

Avoid contact with stray dogs and other animals. If an animal bites or scratches you, clean the wound with large amounts of soap and water and contact local health authorities immediately. Wear sun block regularly when needed. Use condoms for all sexual encounters. Ride only in motor vehicles with seat belts. Do not ride on motorcycles.

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Medical facilities

Medical facilities are extremely limited. There are frequent shortages of medications and essential supplies. Most doctors and hospitals will expect payment in cash, regardless of whether you have travel health insurance. Serious medical problems will require air evacuation to a country with state-of-the-art medical facilities.

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Traveling with children

Before you leave, make sure you have the names and contact information for physicians, clinics, and hospitals where you can obtain emergency medical care if needed.

All children should be up-to-date on routine childhood immunizations, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children who are 12 months or older should receive a total of 2 doses of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, separated by at least 28 days, before international travel. Children between the ages of 6 and 11 months should be given a single dose of measles vaccine. MMR vaccine may be given if measles vaccine is not available, though immunization against mumps and rubella is not necessary before age one unless visiting a country where an outbreak is in progress. Children less than one year of age may also need to receive other immunizations ahead of schedule (see the accelerated immunization schedule).

Because yellow fever vaccine is not approved for use in children less than nine months of age, children in this age group should not in general be brought to the Gambia.

The recommendations for malaria prophylaxis are the same for young children as for adults, except that (1) dosages are lower; and (2) doxycycline should be avoided. DEET-containing insect repellents are not advised for children under age two, so it's especially important to keep children in this age group well-covered to protect them from mosquito bites.

When traveling with young children, be particularly careful about what you allow them to eat and drink (see food and water precautions), because diarrhea can be especially dangerous in this age group and because the vaccines for hepatitis A and typhoid fever, which are transmitted by contaminated food and water, are not approved for children under age two. Baby foods and cows' milk may not be available in developing nations. Only commercially bottled milk with a printed expiration date should be used. Young children should be kept well-hydrated and protected from the sun at all times.

Be sure to pack a medical kit when traveling with children. In addition to the items listed for adults, bring along plenty of disposable diapers, cream for diaper rash, oral replacement salts, and appropriate antibiotics for common childhood infections, such as middle ear infections.

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Travel and pregnancy

Because of the risk of malaria and yellow fever, pregnant women should not in general travel to the Gambia. Yellow fever vaccine is not approved for use during pregnancy, because it contains live virus. Malaria may cause life-threatening illness in both the mother and the unborn child. None of the currently available prophylactic medications is 100% effective. Mefloquine (Lariam) is the drug of choice for malaria prophylaxis during pregnancy, but should not be given if possible in the first trimester. If travel to areas with malaria and yellow fever is unavoidable, insect protection measures must be strictly followed at all times. The recommendations for DEET-containing insect repellents are the same for pregnant women as for other adults.

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Maps

Helpful maps are available in the University of Texas Perry-Castaneda Map Collection and the United Nations map library. If you have the name of the town or city you'll be visiting and need to know which state or province it's in, you might find your answer in the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names.

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Embassy/Consulate Location

>(reproduced from the U.S. State Dept. Consular Information Sheet)

U.S. citizens living in or visiting The Gambia are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in The Gambia upon arrival and to obtain updated information on travel and security in The Gambia. The U.S. Embassy is located on Kairaba Avenue in Fajara, a suburb of the capital city of Banjul. The mailing address is P.M.B. no. 19, Banjul, Gambia. The telephone numbers are (220) 392856, 392858 or 391971, fax (220) 392475.

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Safety information

For information on safety and security, go to the U.S. Department of State, United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign Affairs Canada, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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