Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review

Preparing young travellers for low resource destinations

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 06 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7179
  1. Caoimhe Nic Fhogartaigh, specialist registrar1,
  2. Christopher Sanford, associate professor2,
  3. Ron H Behrens, consultant physician3
  1. 1Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Mortimer Market Centre, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Family Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
  3. 3Department of Clinical Research, Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT
  1. Correspondence to: R H Behrens, Travel Clinic, Hospital for Tropical Diseases, London WC1E 6JB, UK ron.behrens{at}

Summary points

  • Data on health problems encountered by young travellers are lacking and further research is needed

  • Non-infectious threats are a priority in the pre-travel risk assessment

  • Provide advice on injury and crime prevention, sexual health, alcohol, drug use, and prevention of infectious diseases

  • Universities and volunteer organisations should emphasise pre-travel preparation, occupational health advice, and protocols to manage illness and injury overseas

  • Influencing and changing behaviour is important and most difficult in this group

  • Shared decision making improves understanding and compliance

Increasing numbers of young adults travel to developing regions for leisure and social projects. Illness—mainly self limiting gastrointestinal or respiratory syndromes—is reported in three quarters of all such travellers.1 2 3 4 Adverse health events occur more often in young travellers than in older ones, and these are associated with basic living conditions, longer duration of travel, and risk taking behaviours.3 5 Road traffic crashes and injury while swimming also cause an excess number of deaths.6

Although extensive data are available on prevention of infectious diseases, data are lacking on accident prevention and behaviour modification to reduce health risks. Most research has focused on travellers of all ages, so extrapolation is needed to provide information on the subgroup of younger people.

Healthcare professionals are often consulted about pre-travel issues, and this review aims to provide them with published evidence and expert opinion on the major health problems that affect young people travelling to developing countries. It will also provide a framework for performing a travel health risk assessment.

Sources and selection criteria

In this specialty, data come from population surveys, retrospective reviews, and cross sectional or cohort studies, often limited to a single centre or destination,7 and less often from large randomised controlled trials.

We searched PubMed using combinations of words including young, youth, student, elective, volunteer, travel, traveller, health, …

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