July: Safety International Travel

In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of U.S. residents traveling to countries where they are at risk of contracting infectious diseases.1 Depending on the country visited, travelers are potentially exposed to hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever, malaria, meningococcal disease, yellow fever, cholera, poliomyelitis, encephalitis, rabies, and other diseases.

In 2000, 35% of international travel by U.S. residents was work-related. These travelers incur the risk of exposure to infectious disease as an occupational hazard. Many of these workers may be receiving inadequate disease prevention information and medical prophylaxis. For example, 7 to 8 million U.S. residents travel annually to countries where malaria is present. In 1998, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 636 cases of malaria in returning U.S. civilian travelers. CDC has data for 584 of these cases: 59% had not taken any preventive medication and 13% had been prescribed a drug not recommended for the area to which they were traveling. Hepatitis A is another disease where prevention is possible. Travelers who visit developing countries are considered high-risk for hepatitis A, the most common vaccine-preventable disease in travelers.

All Travelers Should Take the Following Precautions No Matter the Destination

  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
  • Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Avoid travel at night if possible and always use seat belts.
  • Don’t eat or drink dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized.
  • To avoid acquiring sexually transmitted diseases (AIDS, hepatitis B and C, syphilis) don’t have sexual contact with people whose health status is unknown or uncertain.
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Remember: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.
  • Never eat undercooked ground beef and poultry, raw eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products. Raw shellfish is particularly dangerous to persons who have liver disease or compromised immune systems.


Employers are encouraged to identify employees who may travel internationally and to refer employees to qualified health care professionals for the purpose of providing travel health information and recommended vaccinations.

Employers and employees should implement these preventive measures with appropriate lead-time before travel so as to maximize effectiveness and to minimize health risks.

U.S. workers who travel abroad should be familiar with the infectious diseases to which they may be exposed. With this knowledge, they may modify their behavior to avoid contracting infection, obtain necessary medication and vaccinations before travel, and recognize symptoms of disease.

Acknowledgements to Occupational Safety & Health Administration: