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Exotic destination, exotic diseases. Here’s a quick run through of the diseases to vaccinate against before travelling to Southeast Asia. 

Southeast Asia: perennially popular with backpackers and tourists seeking thrill and adventure. You can see why. White sand paradises, ancient temples, lush wilderness and a wealth of fascinating cultures. Yet for all the wonders of the region, Southeast Asia is not without its risks. It’s an exotic environment that comes with the risk of catching equally exotic diseases.

The good news is that a little research will help to make sure you’re protected from the risks. Here’s a quick run through of the diseases to vaccinate against before travelling to Southeast Asia.


Typhoid is a serious disease that is spread by ingestion of contaminated food and water. It’s prevalent in all the countries of Southeast Asia except Singapore, so it’s essential that you get vaccinated. You can get vaccinations for free on the NHS and you should ideally get your jabs at least one month before you travel, but it can be done closer to the date if necessary.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral disease spread from contaminated food and water. It's also the most common preventable disease caught by travellers in developing countries. The infection causes jaundice, nausea and lethargy, but all of this is easily avoided by getting a free vaccine from the NHS. This should be done at last 4-6 weeks before your date of travel.

Diphtheria, polio and tetanus

Tetanus, Polio and Diphtheria are all diseases that used to be common in the UK. Thankfully the introduction of widespread vaccinations has made them incredibly rare. Unfortunately they still exist in Southeast Asia, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re protected. All children in the UK are vaccinated against these in Year 9 of secondary school, but it’s worth checking with your doctor that you’ve had the jab before going. If not they can provide a vaccination for free.


Rabies is a disease carried by animals and spread to humans when an animal (usually a dog or a monkey) bites a human or licks an open wound. Though rare, it’s a serious disease that is usually fatal. Even with pre-exposure vaccination, when bitten it’s important to seek medical help immediately. The problem however, is that this sort of medical care is often not readily available in Southeast Asia outside major cities. There are cases of travellers having to fly back to the UK after a bite. Getting a vaccination before travel makes the post-exposure process far simpler and ultimately increases your chances of survival. Unfortunately vaccination is not available for free on the NHS and will cost around £90 per shot of three.

Hepatitis B

This disease affects the liver and can cause liver failure and cancer, sometimes leading to death if not treated. It’s spread through blood, open sores and bodily fluids, and can also be transmitted sexually. In parts of Southeast Asia, up to 20% of the population unknowingly carry the disease, so it’s not unlikely that you’ll come into contact with carriers. Again, this vaccination is not provided for free on the NHS, but it can be supplied from your GP or a private travel clinic via a course of three jabs over 3-4 weeks costing around £105.

Japanese Encephalitis

Japanese Encephalitis (JE) occurs mainly in rural parts of Asia and is spread through mosquito bites. The risk is very low for most travellers but for those spending long periods of time in rural areas, such as paddy fields, the risk is higher. JE infection can lead to fever, neck stiffness, seizures and coma, and around 25% of those who catch JE die. Vaccination isn’t available on the NHS but can be purchased from a travel clinic and administered in two doses costing around £178.

Expect the unexpected

Thankfully modern medicine has given us vaccinations that make travel to tropical and developing areas of the world far safer than it would be without them. That doesn’t mean you’re protected against everything however. If you become sick or have an accident abroad, you don’t want to be left footing a massive bill for medical treatment, which can be eye-wateringly costly abroad. Travel in confidence with comprehensive travel insurance from World First. Our policies are cost-effective and include up to £10 million cover for unexpected medical costs.

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