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Vaccines To Get Before Traveling To Africa

Here's the vaccines you should get before traveling to Africa, as well as bonus tips to make sure you stay safe from South Africa to Senegal!

Planning a trip to Africa in 2024? That’s exciting! Whether you’re heading to the Savannah of Kenya, the bustling markets of Morocco, or the stunning coastlines of South Africa, there’s no doubt you’re in for an adventure.

But before you pack your bags and set off, it’s important to think about your health and safety. Africa is home to incredible wildlife, rich cultures, and breathtaking landscapes, but it also has its share of health risks.

Don’t worry, though—we’re here to help you navigate the essential vaccines and health tips to ensure your journey is as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Let’s dive into the vaccines to get before traveling to Africa, as well as tips and tricks!


Common Diseases In Africa & Their Vaccines

Africa is known to be home to a few unpleasant ailments. Let’s take a look at the most common ones you should be aware of.


Malaria is a disease spread to humans by certain species of mosquito.

Symptoms typically include fever, chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain. In severe cases, it can lead to complications like anemia, cerebral malaria, and organ failure.

  • Vaccine: For a long time, there was no vaccine for malaria. However, the RTS,S/AS01 Vaccine was launched in 2021, and is now being used.
  • Side Effects: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), side effects include pain and swelling near the injection site, and fever.
  • When you should get it: At least 1 week before traveling.

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Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a viral disease that is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. It is endemic in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa.

Initial symptoms include fever, chills, severe headache, back pain, general body aches, nausea, and vomiting. In severe cases, it can cause jaundice, bleeding, and organ failure.

  • Vaccine: The vaccine for yellow fever is widely available, and required for entry into certain African countries.
  • Side Effects: Healthline says that the side effects include soreness at the injection site, mild headache, low-grade fever, muscle aches. It’s rare, but they can include severe allergic reactions, neurologic conditions (encephalitis), and organ failure (viscerotropic disease).
  • When you should get it: At least 10 days before travel.

Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever is a highly contagious disease that’s caused by Salmonella typhi, a relative to the bacteria which causes food poisoning (Salmonella).

Symptoms include high fever, weakness, stomach pain, headache, and loss of appetite. Some people may also experience a rash.

  • Vaccine: The typhoid vaccine isn’t mandatory, but definitely recommended.
  • Side Effects: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists side effects of the typhoid vaccine to be abdominal pain, nausea, headache, fever. On rare occasions, there may also be allergic reactions.
  • When you should get it: At least 2 weeks before travel.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or direct contact with an infectious person.

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, and jaundice.

  • Vaccine: The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all travelers to Africa. It should be administered at least two weeks before travel.
  • Side Effects: The National Institute of Health (NIH) lists soreness at the injection site, headache, loss of appetite and fatigue as the main side effects.
  • When you should get it: At least 2 weeks before traveling.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause both acute and chronic disease. It is spread through contact with infected body fluids.

The symptoms are similar to Hepatitis A, but can also lead to chronic liver disease and liver cancer.

  • Vaccine:  The hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for long-term travelers, those engaging in high-risk activities, or those who may need medical treatment while in Africa.
  • Side Effects: According to Healthline, side effects include hives, swelling in the face and throat, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat.
  • When you should get it: At least 2 weeks before traveling.

Meningococcal Meningitis

Meningococcal Meningitis is a bacterial infection that affects the brain and spinal cord membranes. It’s more common during the dry season.

Symptoms include sudden fever, severe headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and confusion.

  • Vaccine: Vaccination is recommended for travelers to the “meningitis belt” in Africa (Senegal to Ethiopia), especially during the dry season (December to June).
  • Side Effects: The Mayo Clinic breaks down the side effects as chills, fever, general discomfort, and stiffness,
  • When you should get it: At least 2 weeks before traveling.


Rabies is a viral disease that is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. It is transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, such as dogs, bats, or monkeys.

Early symptoms include fever, headache, and general weakness. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear, such as confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and fear of water.

  • Vaccine: The rabies vaccine is recommended for travelers planning extended stays, adventure travel, or those working with animals. It is administered in a three-dose series.
  • Side Effects: The CDC lists soreness, redness, headaches, nausea, stomach and muscle pain, and dizziness as side effects.
  • When you should get it: At least 1 month before traveling.


Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with Vibrio cholerae bacteria. It is often found in areas with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene.

Symptoms include severe diarrhea, dehydration, and sometimes shock. If untreated, it can lead to death within hours.

  • Vaccine: The cholera vaccine is recommended for travelers to high-risk areas or during outbreaks.
  • Side Effects: According to drugs.com, the cholera vaccine’s side effects are tiredness, headaches, stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.
  • When you should get it: At least 2 weeks before traveling.


Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection affecting the mucous membranes of the throat and nose. It spreads through respiratory droplets.

Symptoms include sore throat, fever, swollen glands, and weakness. It can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, and death.

  • Vaccine: The diphtheria vaccine is part of the DPT vaccine series, which is recommended for all travelers.
  • Side Effects: The CDC lists the DPT vaccine side effects as fever, loss of appetite, restlessness, and mild pain.
  • When you should get it: At least 2 weeks before traveling.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which makes it hard to breathe.

Initial symptoms resemble the common cold but progress to severe coughing fits.

  • Vaccine: The pertussis vaccine is included in the DPT series, recommended for all travelers.
  • Side Effects: The CDC lists the DPT vaccine side effects as fever, loss of appetite, restlessness, and mild pain.
  • When you should get it: At least 2 weeks before traveling.


Tetanus is a bacterial infection characterized by muscle spasms. The bacteria enter the body through cuts or wounds. Symptoms include jaw cramping, muscle stiffness, and difficulty swallowing. Severe cases can cause muscle spasms strong enough to break bones.

  • Vaccine:The tetanus vaccine is also part of the DPT series and is recommended for all travelers.
  • Side Effects: The CDC lists the DPT vaccine side effects as fever, loss of appetite, restlessness, and mild pain.
  • When you should get it: At least 2 weeks before traveling.


Staying Healthy & Immune In Africa

Getting vaccines before traveling to Africa are definitely important. But there are some other things you could (and should) do to stay healthy and boost your immune system.

Here are a few things you can do.

Food & Water Safety

The best place to start is by looking at what you’re putting in your body.

  • Drink Bottled or Boiled Water: Avoid tap water and use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth. Ensure the seal on bottled water is intact.
  • Avoid Ice in Drinks: Ice can be made from contaminated water, so it’s best to avoid it.
  • Eat Well-Cooked Food: Stick to food that is cooked thoroughly and served hot. Avoid raw or undercooked meats, seafood, and street food.
  • Peel Fruits and Vegetables: Eat fruits and vegetables that you can peel yourself. Avoid salads and other raw foods that might have been washed in unsafe water.

Insect Bites

A lot of the diseases that require vaccines are transmitted from insect bites. Here’s what you can do to avoid those.

  • Use Insect Repellent: Apply insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or other effective ingredients on exposed skin.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats to minimize skin exposure.
  • Sleep Under Mosquito Nets: Use insecticide-treated bed nets, especially in malaria-endemic areas.
  • Stay in Air-Conditioned or Screened Areas: Ensure your accommodations are well-screened or air-conditioned to keep insects out.

General Tips

Apart from the above, here are a few more tips to keep in mind.

  • Regular Hand Washing: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid Contact with Animals: Do not touch animals, especially stray dogs and cats, to reduce the risk of rabies and other zoonotic diseases.
  • Be Cautious with Personal Care Items: Avoid sharing personal items like razors, toothbrushes, or towels to prevent the spread of infections.
  • Pack A Medical Kit: Include basic first-aid supplies, medications for diarrhea, pain relievers, antihistamines, and any prescription medications you take regularly.
  • Know The Location of Nearby Hospitals & Clinics: Before you travel, identify reputable hospitals or clinics near your destination. Knowing where to go in an emergency can save valuable time.
  • Health Alerts: Monitor health advisories and updates from organizations like the CDC and WHO. Be aware of any outbreaks or health risks in the areas you plan to visit.
  • Drink Plenty of Water: Staying hydrated is essential, especially in hot climates. Drink safe, bottled, or purified water regularly.

Bonus Tip

Making sure you have all the vaccines to get before traveling to Africa is great. But sometimes things don’t go as planned. If something does come up, you can always use the Air Doctor app. With the Air Doctor app in your pocket, you can access medical advice, get prescriptions, and receive expert medical guidance wherever you are in the world!

Air Doctor’s easy-to-use app gives you:

  • A global network of over 20,000 multi-lingual doctors and specialists
  • Choice of clinic, at-home (hotel), and video consultations
  • Active in 78 countries
  • Cross border prescription services
  • Video consultation services in up to 21 languages and 84 countries
  • 24/7 multi-lingual support
  • Transparent pricing, and reviews
  • Most common medical specialties

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Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.