Researchers find 20 percent of pre-travel advice seekers are high-risk

Boston researchers found that high-risk travelers account for close to 20 percent of patients using the clinics of the Boston Area Travel Medicine Network, according to a recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Researchers from the Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health and Boston Medical Center evaluated 15,440 travelers who visited the five BATMN clinics and categorized them into immunocompromised travelers, persons with non-immunocompromising medical comorbidities and pregnant women. The study represents one of the first to provide information on high-risk persons where travel and demographic characteristics are sorted by traveler health status.

Of the travelers surveyed, 74.3 percent had medical comorbidities like cardiac and pulmonary disease, 23.3 percent were immunocompromised, 17.9 percent were high-risk and 2.5 percent were pregnant.

"We found that many travelers seeking pre-travel care are high-risk and that they have a unique set of needs in terms of travel risks, vaccinations and counseling," Natasha Hochberg, the lead author of the study, said. "We recommend that travelers, particularly high-risk travelers, seek care early in the course of their travel planning to allow adequate time to review their needs and that they be referred to experienced travel medicine providers."

The study found that 93.9 percent of high-risk travelers visited countries with medium or high risk of typhoid fever, 85.7 percent visited malaria-risk countries and 22.8 percent visited yellow fever-endemic countries.

"Travel clinic visits need adequate time to address the additional elements of the medical history as well as to allow counseling topics to be covered thoroughly," Hochberg said. "This information is meant to raise awareness of the benefit of pre-travel care for high-risk travelers and improve understanding among clinicians regarding their patients' needs and the provision of appropriate advice."

In 2010, an estimated 935 million travelers crossed international borders, including 28.5 million U.S. travelers. Certain travelers may be at greater risk of disease because of underlying medical conditions or age.