Vaccinations for Borneo

Borneo is quickly becoming one of Asia’s top destinations, famous for its beautiful scenery, amazing food and unique wildlife. While planning their itineraries, travellers are advised to research the recommended vaccinations for Borneo and be aware of the risk factors in certain areas.

Where to go in Borneo

The island of Borneo is one of the largest in the world and is composed of three separate countries within its landmass – Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Every year visitors flock to this beautiful island, eager to experience its breath-taking natural landscapes and fascinating culture first-hand. Most European tourists will be aiming to visit the Malaysian part of the island which is situated on the north-western part of the island and comprised of the Sabah and Sarawak States which make up about a quarter of Borneo’s total land mass.

The coastal region around Kota Kinabalu (western Sabah State) is most popular among tourists who seek to enjoy the scenic beaches and nearby national park. Others will head for the southern city of Kuching (Sarawak State) or may be planning to have a more adventurous experience with sea sports and diving etc. based around Sandakan (northern Sabah State). No matter where you decide to head to, stunning landscapes and fascinating culture is guaranteed.

Vaccinations for Borneo

It’s important to remember that many dangerous illnesses are prevalent in Borneo and several vaccinations are recommended before you travel. For most short-term travellers the usual recommended vaccinations for Borneo include cover against the childhood diseases (Tetanus and Diphtheria, Measles, Mumps and Rubella), as well as cover against the food and water borne diseases of Typhoid and Hepatitis A. For those trekking in Borneo or staying for longer periods then cover against Hepatitis B and Rabies should be considered. Malaria Prophylaxis may need to be considered depending on your itinerary.

Disease Required Recommended All Travellers Optional
Yellow Fever Yellow Fever is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. This live vaccine is given on one occasion at least 10 days before travel (if at all possible) and provides life long cover in the majority of patients. - - - -
Poliomyelitis Poliomyelitis is a viral disease transmitted through oral/faecal contamination and the respiratory route. The vaccine is combined with cover against Tetanus and Diphtheria. Most travellers who have completed their primary course of childhood vaccines will only require a single booster dose to provide cover. Once completed it is expected that cover should last for 10 years. - - - -
Tetanus Tetanus is contracted through contaminated cuts, bites and breaks in the skin. The vaccination provides cover for approximately 10 years in the majority of patients. It is frequently combined with cover against other diseases such as Poliomyelitis, Diphtheria and/or Pertussis. - - - -
Hepatitis A Hepatitis A is a common disease in many of the hotter regions of the world and usually contracted through contaminated food and water. Cover against Hepatitis A can be given alone or combined with protection against Typhoid or Hepatitis B. Once completed, the Hepatitis A vaccination (given on two occasions 6 to 12 months apart) provides cover for approximately 25 years in the majority of patients. - - - -
Typhoid Typhoid is a bacterial disease contracted through contaminated food and water. This vaccine can be combined with cover against Hepatitis A. Once completed, the Typhoid vaccination given on one occasion provides cover for between 2 to 3 years in the majority of patients - - - -
Hepatitis B Hepatitis B is a viral disease which is usually transmitted in a very similar fashion to HIV/AIDS through contact with infected body fluids (eg blood exposure and sexually). This vaccine can be combined with cover against Hepatitis A. The standard schedule for Hepatitis B is to administer the vaccine on days 0, 28 and 180. A more rapid schedule can be used in cases where cover is needed more urgently and this is administered on days 0, 7, 21 to 28 and also 365. Following either course (and not before completion) a blood test can be taken to confirm sufficient antibody protection. Where the correct level of antibodies are showing (>100iu) the vaccination is recognised to provide cover for life. - - - -
Rabies Rabies is a viral disease which is usually transmitted through the bite, the lick or the scratch of any infected warm blooded animal. The vaccine is usually administered on days 0, 7 and between 21 to 28. A final 4th vaccine is administered about 1 year later. Once a course is completed, the vaccination provides life long 'immune memory' in the majority of patients BUT after any possible exposure the individual always needs further vaccination to boost antibody production - - - -
Meningococcal Meningitis Meningococcal Meningitis is a bacterial disease which is usually transmitted through the respiratory route. The vaccine is given on one occasion and provides cover against four of the main forms of this disease. Once a course is completed the vaccination provides for over 5 years in the majority of patients. - - - -
Cholera Cholera / E coli are both food / water borne diseases. This oral vaccine is given on two occasions between 1 to 6 weeks apart before travel. The second dose (frequently given one week after the initial one) should be administered 7 days before potential exposure. Once completed the cover against Cholera is expected to be for about 2 years. The cover against E coli is shorter and thought to be effective for between 3 to 4 months. In travellers who have completed an initial primary course within the past 2 years a single further dose is sufficient to maintain this cover. - - - -
Diphtheria Diphtheria is a bacterial disease transmitted through the respiratory route and also through skin contact. The vaccine is combined with cover against Tetanus & Poliomyelitis or Tetanus & Pertussis and, in those who have completed their childhood vaccines, a single dose provides cover for 10 years. - - - -
Influenza Influenza is a viral disease transmitted through the respiratory route and is very infectious. The vaccine should be given each year in autumn and provides cover for approximately one year. - - - -
Japanese Encephalitis Japanese Encephalitis is a viral disease transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The Ixiaro vaccine is given on two occasions one month apart with a third dose at 12 months. Once completed the vaccine is thought to provide cover for between 2 to 3 years but possibly longer. - - - -
Tick Borne Encephalitis Tick Borne Encephalitis is a viral disease transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. The vaccine is given on two occasions one month apart and a further 3rd dose is given at 12 months. Once completed the vaccine provides cover for between 3 to 5 years. - - - -
Measles / Mumps / Rubella Measles / Mumps / Rubella are viral diseases transmitted mainly through coughs and sneezes (respiratory route). The vaccine is usually given during childhood schedules but coverage in adults can wane and so booster doses (on two occasions one month apart) can provide cover to approximately 95% receiving the vaccine. - - - -
Pertussis Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is a viral disease transmitted mainly through coughs and sneezes (respiratory route). The vaccine is usually given during childhood schedules but coverage in adults can wane and so a booster dose is frequently recommended during pregnancy (to protect the unborn child) and also in those over 50 years of age. - - - -
Malaria Malaria is an infectious disease caused by protozoan parasites from the Plasmodium family that can be transmitted by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito or by a contaminated needle or transfusion.

Staying safe in Borneo

Climbing Mount Kinabalu (>4100m) is frequently included in the itineraries of those wishing to get more out of their holiday but tourists should be aware that the conditions along the trail can change quite rapidly and what started as a simple mountain trail trek can turn into something more daunting when the clouds and mist descent. Travellers have been known to become separated from the companions causing serious concern for all involved so have a travel plan and always stay within sight of others within your group. Travelling alone is never a wise thing to do especially if trekking in unfamiliar territory.

Diverse animal and plant life

Away from the coastal regions Borneo is teeming with many animal species and plants not found elsewhere throughout the world. The hope and expectation of seeing these unique plants and animals draws many tourists into the depths of the country where they can bask in this immense biodiversity and enjoy the experience of being in one of the most special parts of our world. It is said that during the last 15 to 20 years at least 600 new plant species have been discovered in Borneo. [ Watching Sean Connery in ‘Medicine Man’ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104839/ may be a good introduction to set the tone for your visit!]

Tips for travelling to Borneo

Going into the jungle does increase the potential risk factors for tourists so always travel with an organised group and never go alone. Plan your itinerary and try to get an idea of the accommodation you will be using as well as what specific activities that may be involved (jungle treks, staying overnight in hill tribe facilities, visiting the gorillas etc). Ideally this should be in place before you come for your travel vaccine consultation so we can talk through any of the less common health related problems you may encounter. For instance most tourists visiting Borneo and staying along the coastal regions will not require malaria prophylaxis but for those planning visiting the jungle then the risk increases and so the malaria protection tablets would usually be recommended. Also some of the mosquito borne diseases may be more common away from the coast (e.g. Japanese Encephalitis) though Dengue Fever is still a problem throughout the island and mosquito avoidance techniques should always be followed.

For many tourists to Borneo the ‘once in a lifetime’ experience leaves nothing but good memories. Unfortunately for the unprepared the experience can be one which leaves lasting and uncomfortable consequences which often be avoided by some up-front planning and common-sense thoughtfulness.  Be prepared and ‘know before you go’.