Promoting Travelers' Health
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine, only about 4 in 10 US travelers to developing countries visit their health provider or a travel medicine specialist prior to departure (LaRoque et al, JTravMed 2010, 17(6): 387–391). This suggests that most travelers may lack the protection of effective
vaccines or medications to prevent common, debilitating and life-threatening diseases such as malaria and viral hepatitis.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health has sponsored a local public awareness campaign to encourage international travelers to visit a travel medicine specialist prior to departure.
Advertisements captioned "Don't Spend Your Vacation Hugging This" and showing a variety of non-western toilets, are running inside Muni trains, in local print media, and in selected health facilities during November and December. The ads are designed to be somewhat humorous and to capture the attention of readers and passers-by. It is hoped that local residents will heed the advice that a short visit to a travel health provider can help travelers "avoid getting sick far from home."
See the article in the San Francisco Chronicle
Travelers may not realize how many diseases are now vaccine-preventable. Moreover, they may not be aware that diseases that have been eliminated in the USA still exist in other countries and pose risks to travelers. For example:
- Polio has been eradicated by universal vaccination in the USA, but is still active and causing disease throughout Africa, South Asia, and has recently been reported in China
- Measles outbreaks are continuing across Western Europe
- Japanese encephalitis was formerly limited to East Asia, but has become more common in South Asia as well
- Currently there is no malaria vaccine; a travel medicine specialist can recommend an effective anti-malarial drug plus precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
Carrying a prescription antibiotic to treat travelers' diarrhea is highly recommended for overseas travelers. Following precautions to avoid contaminated food and water can help avert infections that cause diarrhea, but precautions are not foolproof. Most cases of travelers' diarrhea will improve dramatically within 6-8 hours of taking the first dose of antibiotic.