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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: Many Students Still Getting Preventable Diseases Abroad

“There is an old saying, ‘Travel expands the mind and loosens the bowels,’” says Dr. Davidson Hamer, professor of global health at Boston University School of Public Health. That is certainly true for college students, who are three times more likely to study abroad now than 20 years ago — and for whom acute diarrhea is the most common illness during their travels.

Beyond acute diarrhea, many students returning from abroad have infections that can be prevented with vaccination or other methods, even though a majority of them received pre-travel health consultations, according to a new study co-authored by Dr. Hamer.

The study was published in the Journal of Travel Medicine.

“We found that easily preventable infections occurred in some student travelers,” Dr. Hamer says, “including malaria, which can be prevented by effective antimalarial chemoprophylaxis, and hepatitis A and typhoid fever — for which we have good vaccines for prevention.” Particularly worrying, he says, is that two of the students in the study contracted HIV while abroad.

For the study, Dr. Hamer and his colleagues used data from 432 student travelers who returned to the United States from abroad with an illness and were given a confirmed diagnosis at a U.S. GeoSentinel site from 2007 to 2017. The GeoSentinel Global Surveillance Network was initiated in 1995 by the International Society of Travel Medicine with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and now consists of 72 specialized travel and tropical medicine clinical sites in 31 countries around the world. Dr. Hamer is the principal investigator for GeoSentinel.

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