The spleen has an important function in the development of the body’s immune system. It filters out microorganisms, such as bacteria, from the blood. This filter is missing in people who have a poorly functioning spleen - or no spleen at all. This makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases.
There are several reasons why a spleen may be removed, for example following an accident or as a result of an illness. Sometimes the spleen is still present, but does not function properly. The severity of an immune disorder due to the absence of a spleen may vary. The age a person is at the time of removal is a key factor. Where the spleen is removed due to an illness, the consequences are often more severe than if it was necessary because of an accident.
People without spleens respond no differently to vaccinations than healthy travellers. All appropriate vaccinations should therefore be given. Due to the increased susceptibility to infections extra vaccinations may be necessary.
If someone without proper splenic function contracts a particularly severe form of malaria, tropical malaria for example, then the attack can be very serious: the disease may in fact prove fatal. It is therefore very important to seek specialist advice before travelling. In some cases, it may be wise to change your destination.
Whether or not antibiotics should be taken to prevent traveller's diarrhoea should be discussed at the vaccination clinic. Individuals can themselves reduce the risk of traveller’s diarrhoea by following basic hygiene rules, for example washing hands before every meal. A medical certificate written in English explaining your condition should be carried on any trip abroad.
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