American Society of Travel Agents urges healthy travel for consumers

04/15/05

New survey shows few seek health advice prior to trip

Alexandria, VA -- April 18, 2005 – As the 2005 travel season swings into high gear, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) announced today that in a recent survey, 56 percent of U.S. travelers plan their itinerary for their vacation while just 19 percent seek travel health advice from a healthcare professional prior to departure. Interestingly, 69 percent of survey respondents agree that safety and health are major considerations when choosing an international travel destination.

ASTA surveyed more than 1,200 U.S. adult travelers to learn more about steps they take to prepare for vacations outside of their home country.

More than 20 million people will travel abroad this year to places where they may contract a potentially serious disease. To increase awareness of the importance of taking travel health precautions, ASTA is launching a national campaign to educate vacationers and business travelers heading overseas about important pre-travel measures to stay healthy abroad. The campaign and survey were funded in part by GlaxoSmithKline.

"As travel agents, our job involves more than just booking the best trip possible," said Kathy Sudeikis, ASTA President and CEO. "We also educate travelers about potential health risks and measures they can take to stay healthy while overseas. I encourage those planning to travel abroad to log on to http://www.travelsafely.com for tips on how to prepare for a safe and healthy trip."

American Travelers Unprepared for Health Risks Abroad

According to the ASTA survey, many U.S. travelers don't know which countries carry which disease risks, specifically 40 percent are not sure where malaria, 52 percent are not sure where hepatitis A and 51 percent are not sure where hepatitis B can be found. In fact, many respondents are unaware that diseases such as malaria and hepatitis can be contracted in many popular destinations. In addition, a large number of those surveyed by ASTA are unsure or misinformed about how some common travel diseases, including malaria (47 percent) and vaccine-preventable hepatitis [(hepatitis A (67 percent) and hepatitis B (92 percent)] are transmitted.

"The good news is that malaria and vaccine-preventable hepatitis can be prevented with medication or vaccination," said Dr. Karl Neumann, travel health expert and director of Travel Medicine Clinic in Forest Hills, New York. "Because many travelers don't realize that they may be at risk for certain diseases while traveling, it's important that they see their healthcare professional before they embark on their trips to learn more about how to protect themselves."

The World Health Organization named malaria one of the most serious threats to international travelers, yet only 8.4 percent of those surveyed who had traveled to malaria-endemic countries took anti-malarial medications to protect themselves. In addition, a large number of U.S. travelers who had visited countries with a risk of vaccine-preventable hepatitis (VPH), hepatitis A and hepatitis B, were not immunized against these diseases, which can seriously damage the liver and may potentially be disabling or fatal (hepatitis C is not a vaccine-preventable disease). In fact, 66 percent of respondents who had visited countries with hepatitis A risk were never vaccinated against the disease. Nearly as many (58 percent) travelers who had visited countries with hepatitis B risk had never received a hepatitis B vaccine.

"These survey results highlight the importance of consulting a physician about the right protection against malaria and vaccine preventable hepatitis before traveling overseas," said Dr. Neumann. "To prevent malaria, the physician may recommend an antimalarial medication, such as Malarone, which is an option for the last minute traveler, since the regimen needs to be started only two days before departure. The physician may also recommend protection against vaccine-preventable hepatitis, which can be contracted in countries where food and water hygiene and blood screening are not as stringent as in North America. There is a combination vaccine, called Twinrix, which can provide protection against both forms of vaccine-preventable hepatitis."

Common Preventable Diseases in Travelers Malaria

Malaria is a serious, sometimes fatal disease transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Malaria occurs in more than 100 countries worldwide, placing nearly 40 percent of the world's population at risk. Each year, over 7 million U.S. residents travel to areas where malaria is present. These travelers often fail to use or comply with malaria prophylaxis. The number of malaria cases among U.S. travelers has risen in recent years.

Malarone® (atovaquone and proguanil HCl), manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is one medication that can be taken to prevent malaria. Unlike older antimalarials, which need to be taken beginning up to three weeks prior to a trip and continued for one month after, Malarone is a medication taken daily starting 1-2 days before the trip and continued through one week after the return.

The most common side effects include headache, abdominal pain in adults, and additionally, vomiting in children. Those who have severe kidney disease or are allergic to Malarone or any of its components should not take Malarone. Rare cases of anaphylaxis following treatment with Malarone have been reported.

Vaccine-Preventable Hepatitis (Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B)

Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are common diseases in many destinations. Each year in the U.S., approximately 171,000 people are infected with vaccine-preventable hepatitis and up to 5,100 die. The risk for hepatitis A or hepatitis B increases when visiting endemic areas such as Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, the Caribbean, and eastern and southern Europe.

In unprotected travelers, hepatitis A occurs 100 times more often than typhoid fever or cholera. It is spread by the fecal-oral route by ingesting contaminated food or water, or through close person-to-person contact. Hepatitis A can result in jaundice, weakness and can even cause liver failure.

Hepatitis B is spread through infected blood or body fluids for example, through sexual contact, intravenous drug use, contaminated medical devices (such as injection needles and dental instruments), body piercing and tattooing. In certain settings it can be 100 times more contagious than HIV. Hepatitis B can lead to chronic liver disease and liver cancer.

There are vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Both forms of vaccine-preventable hepatitis can be prevented by a single vaccine called Twinrix® [Hepatitis A (Inactivated) & Hepatitis B (Recombinant) Vaccine], manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. Twinrix is administered in a three-dose series given over 6 months. Twinrix is generally well tolerated. In clinical trials, the most common side effects included pain and redness at the injection site, headache, and tiredness.

These effects usually are mild and do not last more than 48 hours (see Adverse Reactions section of the Prescribing Information for TWINRIX for other potential side effects). As with any vaccine, there is a small risk of allergic reactions. If you notice any problems following vaccination or if you are allergic to any component of the vaccine such as neomycin, yeast, or latex, please inform your healthcare provider.

About the American Society of Travel Agents

The mission of the American Society of Travel Agents and its affiliated organizations is to enhance the professionalism and profitability of members worldwide through effective representation in industry and government affairs, education and training, and by identifying and meeting the needs of the traveling public. The Society is the world's largest and most influential travel trade association with over 20,000 members in 140 countries. ASTA does not give medical advice or endorse specific treatments or therapeutics. All travelers are urged to consult with their own health care provider regarding appropriate travel health measures.

Survey Methodology

Harris Interactive® conducted the online survey on behalf of the American Society of Travel Agents between December 17 and 28, 2004 among 1,254 U.S. adults aged 25 to 50 who have traveled at least once in the past year and at least once internationally in their lifetime. Figures for age, sex, race, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

Though this online sample is not a probability sample, in theory, with samples of this size, Harris Interactive estimates with 95 percent certainty that the results for the overall sample have a sampling error of +/- 3 percentage points. Sampling error for the following sub-sample results: those who have traveled to countries with the risk of malaria (868), hepatitis A (881), and hepatitis B (1,022) is higher and varies.

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