Public Campaign to Promote Travelers’ Health
According to a 2010 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.
In 2011 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, ran inside Muni trains, in local print media, and in selected health facilities. The ads were designed to be somewhat humorous and to capture the attention of readers and passers-by. It was 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.”
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 specific prescription antibiotic to treat severe 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. Mild to moderate travelers’ diarrhea can be managed with hydration and over-the-counter loperamide. Most cases of severe travelers’ diarrhea will improve dramatically within 6-8 hours of taking the first dose of antibiotic.