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Many U.S. Travelers Uninformed About Health Risks Abroad

FRIDAY, Nov. 5 (HealthDay News) -- About half of the 30 million Americans who travel each year to lower-income countries seek advice about potential health risks before heading abroad, new research shows.

The survey of more than 1,200 international travelers departing the United States at Boston Logan International Airport found that 38 percent were traveling to low- or middle-income nations. Only 54 percent of those travelers sought health advice prior to their trip, and foreign-born travelers were the least likely to have done so, said the Massachusetts General Hospital researchers.

Lack of concern about potential health problems was the most commonly cited reason for not seeking health information before departure to a poorer nation.

Of those who did try to find health information about their destination, the Internet was the most common source, followed by primary-care doctors, the study authors found.

The study was a collaboration involving Massachusetts General Hospital, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Boston Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Port Authority. The findings, published in the November/December issue of the Journal of Travel Medicine, may be used to develop new methods of educating travelers about potential health risks, such as malaria, typhoid, dengue fever and hepatitis, the researchers said.

"These results suggest that the Internet and [primary-care doctors] are two promising avenues for disseminating information about traveling safely. Offering online resources at the time of ticket purchase or through popular travel Web sites would likely reach a large audience of people in need of health advice," study lead author Dr. Regina C. LaRocque, of Mass. General's division of infectious diseases, said in a hospital news release.

"International travel is the primary way many infections traverse the world," senior author Dr. Edward Ryan, director of the Tropical and Geographic Medicine Center at the hospital, said in the news release. "What many people don't realize is that, without seeking the correct health information, they are putting themselves at increased risk of infection, as well as creating a public health risk in their home communities after they return."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about travelers' health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Nov. 3, 2010

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