Staying Healthy on a Kenyan Family Safari

It’s less than a week until senior editor Norie Quintos‘s trip to Kenya with her teen sons. In this posting, the third in a series of blogs on her trip, she covers vaccinations/medicines. Find the first and second posts here.

Kenyan SafariThe glossy catalogs filled with pages of majestic elephants, lions in mid-roar, or huggable baby cheetahs rarely, if ever, mention the vaccinations or medications you’ll need for an African safari. The catalogs’ job is to romance and seduce, and not until you have fallen hard for Africa do you receive the get-down-to-business, no-more-cute-animal-photos information packet with “optional, recommended” travel health precautions against the scary tropical diseases you could catch.

The list of vaccinations is daunting, and includes Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Typhoid, Rabies, and Yellow Fever. The vaccines are also eye-poppingly expensive and not generally covered by insurance. The good news is you may not need every single one; it depends on your specific itinerary, your length of stay, your planned activities, and your health. To suss this out, you’ll need the help of an experienced travel clinician. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website details recommended vaccines and links to an external clearinghouse of travel clinics.

Here’s my advice. Start this process at least two months before your trip. I was surprised to find wide disparities in vaccine prices and office visit fees. There is also currently a shortage of Yellow Fever vaccine and many clinics are temporarily out of doses. (These shortages occur occasionally, due to inherent difficulties in vaccine production.)

Fortunately, I was covered by National Geographic’s excellent travel clinic. For my kids, I turned to Capitol Travel Medicine in Arlington, Virginia, which had knowledgeable staff handling the phones. It also offered the best prices I could find and could reserve two doses of the Yellow Fever vaccine. The nurse, Yvonne Knauff, carefully reviewed our itinerary, examined the children’s medical history and shot records (for instance, they had received Hep A and B shots prior to a trip to Costa Rica two years earlier), and talked to the kids about sun safety, insect protection, food choices, and the potential hazards of petting animals. She administered the necessary shots–Yellow Fever ($100) and Typhoid ($70)–and wrote out prescriptions for the malaria prophylactic Malarone. This expensive drug often costs $7 to $9 per pill. (Travelers need to take one the day before entering a malarial zone; one a day while in the zone; and one a day for a week after leaving the area.) Here, too, it helps to shop around. I found the best prices not at neighborhood drug stores such as CVS, but at discount warehouse stores such as Costco, where I paid $6.47 per pill. (Online Canadian pharmacies were also competitively priced.) Cheaper malaria drugs other than Malarone exist, though they may not work in certain areas or may have unpleasant side effects.

After consulting with the nurse, here’s what I put in our medicine kit: first-aid items such as bandages and polysporin topical antibiotic, remedies for upset stomach (Pepto-Bismol), diarrhea (Imodium), allergic reaction (Benadryl), fever (Advil), powdered electrolyte mix (Gatorade), extra pairs of contact lenses for me, extra prescription asthma medication for one son, copies of doctor’s prescriptions, 30 percent DEET insect repellent (young children may need a milder DEET formulation), sunscreen, lip balm, antiseptic wipes, and travel and medical insurance papers with contact phone numbers. Phew.

Next up in the travel preparations: Packing. Stay tuned.

For more on planning a safari, check out our Africa Trip Planner.

Photo: David McLain from Traveler’s Kenyan Safari Photo Gallery.


  1. weird case
    February 28, 2011, 12:54 pm

    Staying healthy in a place like Kenya could be a bit tricky. And I wouldn’t have believed it if I wouldn’t have seen a case of getting sock of the fear of getting sick. In the drug rehab Utah Center I met a man who went to Kenya in a safari and, as he was terrified by the thought he could get all kind of diseases from mosquito bites he kept taking all kind of pills recommended by some unknown, local doctors. It appears the pills had a psychoactive substance that created addiction and the man was committed to out center. So, not the dangers you can see are the problem. In some cases it’s us we have to be careful about more!

  2. jackson
    July 28, 2010, 8:38 am

    great work good content available on this blog, i would like to share a good website which have law rates of cheapest flights, inbound flights on discount to lagos, nigeria

  3. Jenna
    June 8, 2010, 8:19 am

    What a great read for those planning a trip to our corner of the world. Even for an experienced African adventure guiding and activities resource such as ourselves it taught us a thing or two. Love the check list!

  4. Jenna
    June 8, 2010, 5:26 am

    What a great read for those planning a trip to our corner of the world. Even for an experienced African adventure guiding and activities resource such as ourselves it taught us a thing or two. Love the check list!

  5. African Safari Vacations
    December 31, 2009, 5:01 am

    Very useful blog for pre-preparations for an African tour.

  6. trisela
    November 18, 2009, 12:50 pm

    Thanks for such a useful post. This is certainly a helpful for many persons like me. The basic thing is that you should use Medical Travel Insurance as a part of travel planning.

  7. Usman Ramzan
    October 16, 2009, 5:53 pm
  8. Medical Travel Insurance
    October 12, 2009, 6:41 am

    Interesting post, there certainly are a lot of vaccinations to organise before travelling. But eqully important is to arrange the medical travel insurance incase something untoward happens whilst on safari.

  9. Shane
    July 2, 2009, 1:16 am

    This is a good help for those who is planning to have African Safari vacations.

  10. maya
    July 1, 2009, 6:18 pm

    Another medication that I’m never without is a seasonal allergy pill such as Claritin or Zyrtec. These are non-drowsy whereas Benadryl can knock you out!
    I hope this helps someone.