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Of returning travelers who become ill, many have neither serious nor exotic illnesses.1 The most likely causes of acute symptoms are common problems such as upper respiratory infections, diarrheal illnesses, or reactions to stress, fatigue, or new medications. The ED physician often does not confirm the final diagnosis, but rather protects the health of the public from potentially communicable diseases, begins diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, and provides appropriate referral. Local or regional international health clinics are good resources for referral of patients who need more advanced evaluation, serologic testing, and long-term follow-up (see

Key points for the initiation of ED care are the following:

  1. Isolate and use personal protective precautions early when evaluating patients with suspected travel-related infections.

  2. Most travelers do not have exotic diseases; think of common causes.

  3. Malaria lurks in the febrile patient returning from travel, even in the presence of prophylaxis.



Of travelers, 64% report one or more illnesses during travel, 26% are ill upon return, and 56% of those ill upon return develop symptoms after arrival in the United States.2 Many disease incubation times are longer than the transit times.

Most travelers on vacation or business are abroad for <20 days, and <5% spend extended time overseas. Some travelers originate from disease-endemic nations, as tourists or newly arrived immigrants; these people are at risk of illness due to transit and exposure to areas with high rates of endemic infectious disease. Others at risk include nonvoluntary travelers, such as refugees and displaced persons, as well as landed immigrants returning from visiting their homeland. In all extended-duration travelers, consider endemic illnesses, even if they lived in the area previously. Travelers also have a risk of tropical illness due to increasing adventure-type travel to areas that were previously inaccessible (Table 161-1).

TABLE 161-1Risk of Infectious Exposure

Diseases such as malaria are uncommon in the United States but are leading causes of mortality overseas. Other parasitic agents, such as helminths and rickettsia, also occur with increased frequency and severity in the tropics (see chapters 158 and 160, "Malaria" and "Zoonotic Infections"). Diagnosis of a tropical infection requires a unique set of tests, and therapy ...

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