According to the World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals grew dramatically from 25 million in 1950 to >1 billion in 2012. Not only are more people traveling; travelers are seeking more exotic and remote destinations. Travel from industrialized to developing regions has been increasing, with Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East now emerging destinations. Figure 6-1 summarizes the monthly incidence of health problems during travel in developing countries. Studies continue to show that 50–75% of short-term travelers to the tropics or subtropics report some health impairment. Most of these health problems are minor: only 5% require medical attention, and <1% require hospitalization. Although infectious agents contribute substantially to morbidity among travelers, these pathogens account for only ∼1% of deaths in this population. Cardiovascular disease and injuries are the most frequent causes of death among travelers from the United States, accounting for 49% and 22% of deaths, respectively. Age-specific rates of death due to cardiovascular disease are similar among travelers and nontravelers. In contrast, rates of death due to injury (the majority from motor vehicle, drowning, or aircraft accidents) are several times higher among travelers. Motor vehicle accidents account for >40% of travelers’ deaths that are not due to cardiovascular disease or preexisting illness.
Monthly incidence rates of health problems during stays in developing countries. ETEC, enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli. (From R Steffen et al: Int J Antimicrob Agents 21:89, 2003.)
Health maintenance recommendations are based not only on the traveler’s destination but also on assessment of risk, which is determined by such variables as health status, specific itinerary, purpose of travel, season, and lifestyle during travel. Detailed information regarding country-specific risks and recommendations may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publication Health Information for International Travel (available at www.cdc.gov/travel).
Fitness for travel is an issue of growing concern in view of the increased numbers of elderly and chronically ill individuals journeying to exotic destinations (see “Travel and Special Hosts,” below). Since most commercial aircraft are pressurized to 2500 m (8000 ft) above sea level (corresponding to a PaO2 of ∼55 mmHg), individuals with serious cardiopulmonary problems or anemia should be evaluated before travel. In addition, those who have recently had surgery, a myocardial infarction, a cerebrovascular accident, or a deep-vein thrombosis may be at high risk for adverse events during flight. A summary of current recommendations regarding fitness to fly has been published by the Aerospace Medical Association Air Transport Medicine Committee (www.asma.org/publications/medical-publications-for-airline-travel). A pretravel health assessment may be advisable for individuals considering particularly adventurous recreational activities, such as mountain climbing and scuba diving.
Immunizations for travel fall into three broad categories: routine (childhood/adult boosters that ...