People interviewed for the study often assumed they knew how to avoid health pitfalls during travel abroad.
With reports of Ebola transmission quickly gaining a mass audience, a study of Seattle-area people who became ill while traveling is a timely reminder of precautions easily taken.
More than half of King County travelers surveyed who went abroad and fell ill had not consulted with a healthcare provider or other source of health-related travel advice before they set off on their trip, according to a study led by Public Health - Seattle & King County .
The study was published online by the journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease. The lead author of the paper was Atar Baer, an epidemiologist with the agency and affiliate assistant professor of epidemiology in the University of Washington School of Public Health.
Giardia is a microscopic parasite that causes an intestinal infection.
illustration of giardia parasite
Health officials recommend that everyone planning to travel abroad consult with a healthcare provider four to six weeks before departure to ensure their vaccinations are current and receive advice on how to protect their health while they travel.
In the study, Public Health surveyed King County residents who had developed a notifiable infectious disease during 2011 or 2012 and who had likely contracted their infection abroad.
Such notifiable diseases include gastrointestinal infections due to bacteria and parasites, mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, vaccine-preventable diseases such as pertussis, and animal bites.
During the study period, 451 cases were reported and linked to travel abroad. Of these, researchers were able to interview 259 people. Eighty percent of the interviewed travelers were adults.
Of those surveyed, 162 had developed gastrointestinal infections caused by the bacteria campylobacter, non-typhoidal salmonella, or the intestinal parasite giardia. Approximately 14 percent of interviewees were hospitalized for their illness.
Less than half (43.6 percent) said they had sought pre-travel health advice, most commonly from their healthcare provider or a travel medicine specialist; 8.5 percent said they consulted the Internet.
“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,” Baer said.
Of those who thought they “knew what to do,” 64.6 percent were males, 85 percent were born in the United States, and a majority were business travelers, the health officials found.
Baer said the findings will be used to improve Public Health’s educational outreach efforts and to identify better ways to distribute travel advice to King County residents.
Since business travelers were more likely to believe they already knew how to avoid travel-related illness, education and outreach efforts at area businesses that sponsor travel abroad might help reduce travel-acquired illnesses, the health officials said.