Many people erroneously believe that if they are visiting popular tourist destinations, staying in luxury hotels, or traveling on deluxe cruise ships, they are protected from infectious disease
Abington, PA (Vocus) February 24, 2010
Yellow fever is now active in South America and Africa, and the yellow fever vaccine, required for travel to certain mosquito-prone areas, is only available at authorized centers which issue proof of vaccination.
Yellow fever, dengue, malaria – these potentially dangerous infectious diseases are easily transmitted, yet they rarely occur in the United States. Because most Americans don’t encounter these illnesses in daily life, they often don’t think about the risks of contracting them while on personal or business travel abroad.
“They’re also usually unaware of how widespread other diseases, such as hepatitis A, are in the rest of the world, or how easily they can pick up travelers’ diarrhea when outside U.S. borders,” said Robert R. Dee, M.D., Abington Memorial Hospital’s Travelers Clinic. “What’s more, many people erroneously believe that if they are visiting popular tourist destinations, staying in luxury hotels, or traveling on deluxe cruise ships, they are protected from infectious disease.”
At Abington Memorial Hospital’s Travelers Clinic, the goal is to prevent patients from contracting such illnesses while far from home. Board-certified infectious disease physicians understand who is at risk and pay close attention to disease outbreaks worldwide, in order to help their patients stay healthy. Patients referred to the clinic include those going on every kind of vacation, business travelers, Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries who travel regularly, naturalized citizens visiting their homelands and others. Recently, the clinic cared for a pediatrician who was headed to Haiti to provide medical help.
“We closely monitor where specific risks and epidemics are occurring – information that literally changes from week to week. Data is gathered from government agencies, a subscription service for travel medicine and infectious disease professional literature,” said Dee.
Based upon that continuously updated information, Travelers Clinic physicians assess what each patient needs for vaccinations, preventive medications, and activity cautions. The doctor reviews the planned itinerary with the patient, discusses chronic conditions and medications being taken, makes recommendations, as well as administers immunizations and prescriptions.
Preventive treatment is based upon medical history and outbreak concerns related to the patient’s travel plans. Dengue, for example, an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes, is the most common febrile illness in travelers returning from the Caribbean. It also occurs in Southeast Asia and the Philippines. Such seemingly exotic illnesses are brought home. To help with protection, the Travelers Clinic advises patients on effective mosquito-bite preventive techniques.
Many travelers head to areas endangered by malaria, such as Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Oral medication can protect them, but strains of malaria in certain areas have become drug-resistant. “Our expertise and updated resources help us prescribe the right medication for each area,” said Dee.
Hepatitis A, rare in the U.S. and Canada, is a much higher risk worldwide, especially in Mexico, Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Central and South America. Even Greenland is affected. Yet many travelers might not think about such risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers hepatitis A “one of the most common vaccine-preventable infections acquired during travel.”
The woe known as travelers’ diarrhea afflicts as many as 50 percent of those traveling abroad. This debilitating infection, transmitted through food and water, may spread by food handlers or ice use. “We give patients prescriptions for the correct antibiotic for the area they’ll be visiting (some bacteria have become resistant),” said Dee, “and advise them to take the medicine along as it may be unavailable locally when they need it.”
About 700 people use Abington’s travel medicine services each year. For those with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems due to cancer, diabetes, HIV or liver ailments, infectious diseases can be especially harmful. Our system of individual itinerary and medical history review, coupled with outbreak tracking, sometimes leads us to recommend that certain destinations be avoided.
Pregnant women have specific concerns as well. Many don’t realize the risks they face from influenza and malaria. The CDC recommends they receive influenza vaccinations, but many pregnant women go unprotected without knowing the disease is active at different times around the globe. Similarly, although the CDC advises pregnant women to stay out of malaria areas, women traveling for reasons such as visiting family may continue with their plans anyway. At Abington’s Travelers Clinic, doctors can advise them on which malaria medications are safe to take during pregnancy.
In addition to the counseling all patients receive from our clinic physicians, they also receive information on vaccines, medications, how to navigate food and water safely, prevent insect bites and minimize infections. As a result, the clinic has an album filled with postcards sent by patients, describing the enjoyable times they’re having on their trips. And that, ultimately, is the goal of the Travelers Clinic.
For more information about Abington Memorial Hospital’s Travelers Clinic, or to make an appointment, please call 215-481-6350.
About Abington Memorial Hospital
Abington Memorial Hospital is a 665-bed, acute care teaching hospital with a medical staff of more than 900 physicians and more than 5,600 employees. These professionals provide medical care and health services to residents of Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
A regional provider, Abington Memorial Hospital has the only Level II accredited trauma center in Montgomery County and offers highly specialized services in cardiac care, cancer care, neurosciences, orthopaedics and maternal/child health.