More than half of Seattle-area travelers who went abroad and fell ill never sought health-related advice before they left, according to a new study led by Dr. Atar Baer, epidemiologist with Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) and affiliate professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.
The study, published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, was based on interviews with 259 King County residents who developed a notifiable condition in 2011 or 2012 and likely contracted their illness when they traveled abroad. The notifiable diseases included gastrointestinal infections due to bacteria and parasites, mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, vaccine-preventable diseases such as pertussis, and animal bites.
“The most common reason people gave for not seeking advice before their trips was that they were not aware that they needed to or that they thought they already knew what to do,” Dr. Baer said. Most often, pre-travel advice was sought from health care providers or a travel medicine specialist; roughly 10 percent sought advice through self-study resources such as the Internet or a book.
The study was undertaken to identify potential opportunities for prevention of travel-related illnesses in King County, WA, which is home to Seattle and many large global businesses in the aerospace, technology, and retail sectors. An estimated one in three local jobs in the area is tied to international trade.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends consulting a health care provider a month to six weeks before departure. The research findings will be used to improve educational outreach efforts so that travelers can better protect themselves. One idea suggested by researchers is to refer consumers to a traveler’s health website when they purchase international tickets online.