Graduation season is rapidly approaching, with high school graduations, followed by summer vacations. While searching for that unique gift and /or summer experience, many of your patients may choose an international destination. Not to be forgotten are those who might travel to resource-limited areas to visit relatives, volunteer, or have extended stays because of parental job relocation. More U.S. high school graduates are participating in gap year programs, many of which involve extensive travel while providing the participant the opportunity to immerse and to actively participate in other cultures. For many, it may be their first experience in a country with poor hygiene. This week alone, I’ve helped prepare travelers, including adolescents and children, for a safari and one for 4 weeks of volunteerism in Tanzania. Another young traveler’s destinations were Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya, and a fourth is planning to explore and trek regions in the high elevations of Bolivia and Peru. The question is, Will you be ready to help prepare young travelers to stay healthy and return home without any unwanted souvenirs?
For many, health concerns often are not the top priority when they are planning vacations. However, the primary care physician will most likely will be their initial call and resource once they realize their potential to be exposed to diseases and/or conditions not routinely encountered in the United States. Even if you receive the call late, there are still interventions you can provide.
To avoid that last-minute call, develop strategies to identify international travelers in your practice. Many practices send out reminders yearly for influenza and well visits, so consider developing one for international travel. Text-message reminders have been shown to improve influenza vaccine administration rates and are another form of communication that can be considered. Frequently remind families that if planning international travel, they should seek pretravel advice in a timely manner: Ideally advice should be obtained 4-6 weeks in advance, and definitely at least 2 weeks prior to departure. Remind them that adequate time is needed for the vaccine to become effective. In addition, depending on the patients’ destination, trip duration, and type of activity, two vaccines (rabies and Japanese encephalitis) may be recommended and are administered over a 28-day period. Yellow fever vaccine, which is recommended or required for entry into some countries, can be obtained only at centers designated by each state health department. It should be administered at least 10 days prior to travel.
Vaccine interventions are based on the potential risk for disease exposure/acquisition. Factors to consider include the age of the travelers, their health and immunization status, in addition to their destination, duration of stay, accommodations, activities, and reason for travel (such as business or visiting friends and relatives). If you have a child with a chronic disorder or who is immunocompromised, comparable medical care may not be available at all international destinations. In addition, not everyone may be a candidate to receive some recommended or required vaccines. Involvement with a health professional prior to booking the trip would be advisable.
Identify a travel health specialist in your area as a local resource who can provide the most up-to-date information and recommendations. Ensure that individual is willing to see children of all ages.
Make sure routine immunizations are up to date for age. Measles is the one exception. I know you have heard it before, but outbreaks persist, even in the United States. Travelers 6- to 11-months-old should receive one MMR dose prior to international travel. This dose will not count, so these children should receive two additional doses of vaccine once they are at least 1 year old. Many children travel with adults. All travelers at least 12 months of age and born after 1956 should have two documented doses of MMR prior to international travel unless they have serologic evidence of immunity. The second dose can be given as early as 4 weeks after the first. If two doses at least 4 weeks apart are administered when a child is at least 12 months of age, no additional doses are necessary.
In 2014, there were 668 cases of measles from 27 states in the United States. The United States is still experiencing a multistate outbreak of measles at press time, which began December 2014. As of April 24, 2015 , 166 cases have been reported from 19 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the virus type (B3). It is identical to the one responsible for the outbreak in the Philippines in 2014, and it has now been identified in 14 other countries.
Most U.S. measles cases occur in unvaccinated travelers who become ill after their return and spread the disease to susceptible individuals. Do you have patients who are unimmunized? Another point to consider when speaking with these parents about travel is the potential loss of the herd immunity afforded their children while living in the United States. This benefit may not exist when they are visiting and/or relocating to countries with lower immunization rates. Measles outbreaks are occurring in multiple countries and are not limited to underdeveloped countries. For the most up-to-date travel health-related information from the CDC, click here .
Travelers’ diarrhea (TD) occurs in up to 70 % of travelers to developing countries. The World Health Organization defines it as passage of at least three loose stools in a 24-hour period. Most often it is self-limited, with symptoms lasting a median of 3-4 days. Although TD can be caused by bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, bacteria are usually the etiology, with enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli being the most common pathogens. Other bacterial etiologies include Shigella and Campylobacter species. Two antimicrobials are frequently prescribed to travelers for self-treatment of TD: ciprofloxacin and azithromycin. Most young children are prescribed the latter; however, in older children, ciprofloxacin may be prescribed off label, as its use in persons younger than 18 years is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
In December 2014, PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network for food-borne disease, detected a multistate cluster of ciprofloxacin-resistant Shigella sonnei. Between May 2014 and February 2015, 157 cases including 37 children were detected in 32 states and Puerto Rico. Nine of the cases identified by PulseNet, and an additional 76 cases, were associated with an outbreak of ciprofloxacin-resistant S. sonnei in San Francisco. Antibiotic susceptibility was available for 126 isolates, of which 109 (87%) were not ciprofloxacin susceptible. Travel history was available for 75 patients not associated with the San Francisco outbreak, and slightly more than half (40) were associated with international travel. The island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic = 22 cases and Haiti = 4 cases) was the most common destination, followed by India (8 cases) and Morocco (3 cases). The remaining destinations were Asia and Europe ( MMWR 2015;64:318-20 ) Travel history was available and positive for 23 of the 37 children (62%).
Why such a concern? International travelers are at risk of becoming colonized with drug-resistant bacteria and have the potential to spread them domestically. It has already begun. In 2012, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) revealed that isolates of S. sonnei had the following resistance pattern: trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, 42%; ampicillin, 18%; and ciprofloxacin, 2.1%. During this outbreak, 19 of the 126 isolates were tested by NARMS with the following resistance patterns noted: trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, 84%; ampicillin, 5%; and ciprofloxacin, 32%.
More judicious use of antibiotics is necessary. As pediatricians, we are not immune to this issue. The challenge is when, if at all, antibiotics should be prescribed for TD, and under what conditions should patients be instructed to use them. I’m rethinking my own practice. TD is one of the most common illnesses travelers acquire and is easily treated, but at what cost? The one expression I keep hearing myself say is, First do no harm.
Dr. Word is a pediatric infectious disease specialist and director of the Houston Travel Medicine Clinic. She had no relevant financial disclosures. Write to Dr. Word at firstname.lastname@example.org .