ID Consult

International travel - Focus on timely intervention


Many of your patients will head for international destinations this summer, where they may be exposed to infectious diseases and other health risks they normally do not encounter in the United States.

For the majority of patients, these exposures will be brief; however, several may be extended due to study abroad or parental job relocation. More and more adolescents also are traveling to resource-limited areas doing volunteer work or adventure travel, and many are residing with host families. Children with chronic diseases pose concerns directly related to their underlying conditions, susceptibility, and availability of medical care in the host country. While most international travel plans are made at least 3 months in advance, health precautions such as immunizations and preventive medication often are not considered as travel plans are being finalized. If you are lucky, your patients will have mentioned their plans to you prior to finalizing their trips. You may receive a call at the last minute for assistance in helping to prepare them for a safe and healthy journey.

Dr. Bonnie M. Word

The U.S. Office of Travel & Tourism reports that slightly more than 60 million Americans traveled outside of the United States in 2012, with 28.5 million of the final destinations being overseas. Children accounted for approximately 2.4 million travelers. While tourism was the most common reason for travel, children were more likely to be visiting friends and relatives (VFR). Studies have revealed significantly increased health risks among VFR travelers, who often stay in private homes and in less-developed areas, compared with vacationers or business travelers who are more likely to be staying in hotels and in urban areas (Pediatrics 2010;125:e1072-80).

Is it really necessary to seek pretravel advice? Some travelers are not convinced. To facilitate this discussion, I thought I would share a recent call.

You are informed via voicemail that a 3-year-old is traveling with his family to Madras, India, for 8 weeks. He is visiting relatives, and the family may visit rural areas. The accommodations are air conditioned and the family is departing in 5 days! They would like to schedule an appointment immediately. What can you do?

Vital information has already been provided. The destination, type of accommodations, activities, duration of stay, and that the patient is a VFR are all important details when making vaccine and other recommendations. First, determine if the child’s routine immunizations are up to date. Next, determine the potential exposures for this patient, and identify vaccine-preventable and nonpreventable diseases. If there is a travel medicine specialist in your area who also sees children, you can refer the patient. If one is not readily available or you prefer to manage the patient, a great resource is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Traveler's Health site.

Vaccine preventable diseases include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, polio, rabies, typhoid, and influenza. Nonvaccine preventable diseases include chikungunya and dengue fevers. Avian influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, and traveler’s diarrhea are also cause for concern.

If you determine the routine immunizations are up to date, remember that measles is still a concern in many countries, and current U.S. recommendations state that all children at least 12 months of age should have two doses prior to leaving the United States. Although routinely administered at 4 years of age, the second dose of MMR can be administered as early as 4 weeks after the first dose. Those aged 6-11 months should have one dose prior to leaving the country. The remaining two doses should be administered at the usual time. Therefore, a total of three doses will be required to complete the series. Since the immunizations are up to date, this patient will also be protected against hepatitis A and B in addition to polio. Hepatitis A is the most common vaccine preventable disease acquired by travelers.

Rabies is prevalent in India, and all animal bites should be taken seriously. Because the patient is in a major urban area, access to both rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin should not be a concern. Japanese encephalitis will be circulating (May-October), but is usually found in rural agricultural areas. Mosquito precautions utilizing DEET (30%) on exposed areas or Permethrine-containing sprays on clothes to repel mosquitoes and ticks should be emphasized if travel to rural areas occurs. Vaccines for rabies and Japanese encephalitis would not be recommended for this patient. If the itinerary were different, they may be considered. Ixiaro, an inactivated Japanese encephalitis (JE) vaccine was approved for use in children as young as 2 months of age in May 2013. Previously, it was approved for use only in those at least 17 years of age in the United States. Both rabies and JE require a minimum of 21 and 28 days, respectively, to complete, and JE should be completed at least 1 week prior to exposure.

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