Updated: Jul 24
Traveling to Southeast Asia? With beautiful country and culture to experience, there are some diseases that you do not want to experience-specifically, Japanese encephalitis. Luckily there is a safe and effective Japanese encephalitis vaccine available in the U.S.
Signs and Symptoms of Japanese Encephalitis
When individuals show symptoms, the most common signs and symptoms of Japanese encephalitis are a headache, fever, tremors, nausea, vomiting, a stiff neck, and spastic paralysis.
This disease attacks the thalamus and the midbrain most and can cause long-term neurological effects. Many people that live in countries with Japanese encephalitis receive these vaccines as a child to prevent the disease.
To hear some travelers stories about their experience with Japanese encephalitis, watch these videos about a volunteer and a young scientist. Their recoveries took months to years to regain any resemblance of their prior functioning.
How is Japanese Encephalitis Treated?
Japanese encephalitis does not have a cure. There is no specific treatment to help people recover from Japanese encephalitis, so physicians usually prescribe hydration and pain relief. There are currently a few antiviral medications being studied to see how effective they are at treating Japanese encephalitis.
If a traveler would return to the United States and begin showing symptoms, it could take doctors a while to come across Japanese encephalitis as a diagnosis due to the rarity of the disease process. Most doctors will never see a Japanese encephalitis case in the U.S., but hospitals abroad could be quite different than the kinds you are used to.
How do you Prevent Japanese Encephalitis?
The best prevention against Japanese encephalitis is the vaccine, IXIARO, and mosquito repellent. The vaccine is a two-dose series given 7-28 days apart depending on your age and travel plans. Japanese encephalitis is transmitted by mosquitoes that bite an infected person or animal.
Mosquito repellents with DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus can be used daily to prevent mosquito bites as well as permethrin-treated clothing.
What are the Side Effects of the Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine?
Side effects of the Ixiaro Japanese encephalitis vaccine are fairly rare. Common side effects of IXIARO, the Japanese encephalitis vaccine are a sore arm, redness at the injection site, a headache, and muscle pain. Getting the JE shot makes you only 2-3% more likely to feel sick than you would without it.
IXIARO is not a live vaccine so it does not need to be spaced out from other vaccinations.
Where are you most likely to get Japanese Encephalitis?
There are 25 countries with risk of Japanese encephalitis transmission. Some of these are seasonal, but others are year-round.
These are countries where there have been identified Japanese encephalitis cases:
Papua New Guinea
Countries with the highest rates of Japanese encephalitis include China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Japanese encephalitis risk can also be seasonal, with most countries being highest risk between May and October.
What Countries Require Japanese Encephalitis Vaccines?
No countries require it for entrance, but it is highly recommended by the CDC and individual health agencies. The risk versus benefit of the IXIARO vaccine are numerous.
The IXIARO vaccine has very few side effects and adverse reactions are rare. Most people only have complaints of a sore arm, similar to most vaccinations. Many citizens of countries with risk of Japanese encephalitis receive the vaccine with their childhood immunization series.
Do I or my Child need a Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine?
If you are traveling for over one month to an area with risk of Japanese encephalitis, or travel there frequently, the Japanese encephalitis vaccine would be recommended. For travelers visiting risky areas for less than a month, but participating in more outdoor activities or staying in accommodations without bed nets, the IXIARO vaccine is highly recommended.
The Japanese encephalitis vaccine is a series of 2-doses separated by 7-28 days depending on age and departure date. A booster after 11 months is recommended to ensure longer-term immunity.