Results of a new survey revealed low awareness of endemic diseases among people traveling to international destinations and despite an uptick in travel to Asian-Pacific countries1, many do not seek preventative healthcare from a qualified travel health specialist prior to their travel to guard against infection or illness.
Findings from the survey of 776 U.S. adults who visited Asia for 10 or more days found that only 18 percent visited a travel health specialist to discuss health-related preparations for travel.
Results also revealed that awareness and preventative measures for Japanese encephalitis (JE) – a rare but serious disease and the most common form of vaccine-preventable encephalitis and viral-induced neurologic disability in Asia – was extremely low: only 33 percent of respondents were aware of the disease, and just 16 percent of travelers considered to be high-risk received a preventative vaccine.
“Most Americans are vaccinated for diseases common to our country as children, but aren’t always protected when traveling abroad,” said Dr. Scott Morcott, family physician and Medical Director of Passport Health Chicago. “I encourage anyone planning international travel, especially those who may be abroad for extended periods of time such as students, business people, adventure travelers and volunteers, to visit a travel health practitioner to learn about preventative measures for travel-related diseases.”
According to the World Health Organization, JE is endemic to 24 countries across Asia and parts of the western Pacific. While most people infected with JE virus – which is transmitted by mosquitoes – are asymptomatic or experience only mild symptoms2, it can be fatal or cause long-term serious complications.
There is no specific treatment for JE, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that, in addition to personal protective measures such as use of insect repellant and protective bed netting, travelers who spend 30 days or more in a JE-endemic region be vaccinated prior to arrival. In addition, shorter-term travelers should consider vaccination if their activities or location put them at risk for a mosquito bite.
Other key findings from the survey include:
1/ Personal protective measures against mosquito bites were not routinely used or available
- 53 percent reported that hotels or accommodations did not provide bed nets to guard against mosquitoes
- 42 percent reported that they did not use an insect repellent while in Asia
2/ The majority of travelers reported visiting areas or participating in activities that increased their risk for the JE virus
- 72 percent of respondents visited at least one area of increased risk for JE, such as suburban or rural areas, beach resorts outside major cities, or wilderness areas
- 66 percent participated in at least one of the following outdoor activities while traveling, which could increase the risk of mosquito bites: hiking/trekking, camping, biking, fishing or hunting, and other outdoor activities
3/ Only 15 percent of those surveyed fell into the “Not Recommended” category for vaccination against JE under current CDC guidelines
Travel health practitioners provide destination-specific care to international travelers. A travel health physician or nurse can advise patients on diseases endemic to countries around the globe and the best methods to protect themselves from exposure. These recommendations might include how to avoid contaminated food or water, guarding against vector-borne disease, and when vaccination is recommended.
1 "UNWTO Tourism Highlights: 2017 Edition | World Tourism Organization". doi:10.18111/9789284419029.
2 World Health Organization. Japanese encephalitis Fact sheet no.386. December 2015. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs386/en. March 27, 2018.