Half of those travelling internationally not aware of potential health risks, says a new study.

More than 30 million people in the United States travel to resource-limited areas of the world each year. This global mobility may contribute to the spread of infectious diseases - such as influenza, measles, and meningitis - and may also put individual travellers at risk for malaria, typhoid, dengue fever and hepatitis. Despite these potential risks, a recent study conducted by the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and published in the Journal of Travel Medicine found that 46 per cent of travellers to resource-limited countries did not seek health advice or vaccinations prior to departure.

The researchers surveyed more than 1,200 international travellers departing the United States at Boston Logan International Airport. Of those surveyed, 38 per cent were travelling to countries described as low- and low-middle income by the World Bank’s World Development Report, yet 46 per cent of those travellers did not seek health advice prior to departure. Foreign-born travellers - including those travelling to visit family and friends, and those travelling alone or for vacation - were the least likely to have researched health information. The most commonly cited reason for not pursuing health information was a lack of concern about potential health problems. Of the 54 per cent of travellers to resource-limited countries who did seek health information, the Internet was the most common source, followed by primary care practitioners (PCPs).

“International travel is the primary way many infections traverse the world,” says Edward Ryan, director of the Tropical and Geographic Medicine Centre in the Division of Infectious Diseases at MGH and a senior author of the study. “What many people don’t realize is that, without seeking the correct health information, they are putting themselves at increased risk of infection, as well as creating a public health risk in their home communities after they return,” Ryan added.

The study has been published in the Journal of Travel Medicine.