ICBioethics Blog 

Summer Travels! Know the Potential Public Health Hazards …

Written by: Aimee Zellers

Summer is a great time for relaxation and travel. Global transportation has given us access to virtually all parts of the globe. Traveling to new places should be an exhilarating experience, but we should also be informed when we travel. Different parts of the world suffer from different types of infectious disease for various reasons, but they pose a very real public health threat.

Many of you probably remember the “TB on a plane” scare in 2007, when a young man traveled on multiple international flights while suffering from a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. Unsuspecting travelers could find themselves in a world of pain if they do not take the proper precautions when traveling to countries with high infectious disease rates. Infectious diseases account for half of all premature deaths worldwide. Of all the deaths caused by infectious disease there are really on about six infectious diseases responsible for 90% of those deaths. They are: pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS. I’m not going to go through the statistics for each disease, but I will mention some interesting numbers of malaria and tuberculosis, because those are diseases that typically don’t occur with any frequency in the US.

Malaria: In 2010, an estimated 660,000 individuals died from malaria. Many of the severe cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2011, 99 countries reported cases of malaria and transmission including countries in Asia, Latin America, and to a lesser degree the Middle East and parts of Europe. In 2011, 99 countries and territories had to cope with continued malaria transmission.

Tuberculosis: In 2011, 1.4 million individual world-wide died from tuberculosis (TB), with a reported 8.7 million new cases each year. TB occurs in every part of the world. However, it occurs more frequently in some parts. For example, Asia accounts for approximately 60% of all new TB cases world-wide. Sub-Sahara Africa, in 2011, had an infection rate of 260 cases per 100,000 individuals. Interestingly, the data, from 2011, reports that approximately 80% of reported TB cases occur in 22 countries.

When you are traveling be aware of the potential public health hazards you could be exposed to. This information is not meant in any way to scare you or suggest that you shouldn’t travel, only that you should do so wisely. If you are going to an area with limited healthcare resources, it is in your best interest to take precautions and preventative measures before you travel. Do yourself and the public a service (what I mean is for you protect yourself and don’t spread infectious diseases). If you are traveling out of the country ask your doctor the following: 1) “Do I need any additional vaccines?” and 2) “Is there anything out of the ordinary that I should watch out for at this destination?” And, finally, perhaps most importantly, if you get sick while abroad, let you primary care physician know.

Your primary care physician will be able to determine what vaccines you will need (if any) depending upon your immunization history, travel destination, and planned activities. To ensure the maximal effectiveness of vaccines you should consult your physician 4 to 6 weeks before your trip, especially for malaria vaccines. If you are traveling to parts of Asia or parts of Africa the CDC recommends the follow vaccinations: all routine vaccines, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Polio, and Rabies. The CDC also recommends that those doing extensive traveling worldwide should consult an expert in travel medicine.


For more information of travel health check out the CDC’s website at: