International travel and health

General precautions

Health risks and precautions: general considerations

According to statistics from the World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals worldwide in 2010 for business, leisure and other purposes amounted to 940 million.

Travel for leisure, recreation and holidays accounted for just over half of all international tourist arrivals (51% or 446 million arrivals). Some 15% of international tourists reported travelling for business and professional purposes and another 27% travelled for specific purposes, such as visiting friends and relatives (VFR), religious reasons and pilgrimages, health treatment, etc. Slightly over half of travellers arrived at their destination by air transport (51%) in 2010 while the remainder travelled by surface (49%) – whether by road (41%), rail (2%) or sea (6%). Over time, the share for air transport arrivals is gradually increasing.

International arrivals are expected to reach 1.6 billion by 2020.

International travel can pose various risks to health, depending both on the health needs of the traveller and on the type of travel to be undertaken. Travellers may encounter sudden and significant changes in altitude, humidity, temperature and exposure to a variety of infectious diseases, which can result in illness. In addition, serious health risks may arise in areas where accommodation is of poor quality, hygiene and sanitation are inadequate, medical services are not well developed and clean water is unavailable. Accidents continue to be the most common cause of morbidity and mortality in travellers but it is also important to protect travellers against infectious diseases.

All individuals planning travel should seek advice on the potential hazards in their chosen destinations and understand how best to protect their health and minimize the risk of acquiring disease. Forward planning, appropriate preventive measures and careful precautions can protect their health and minimize the risks of accident and of acquiring disease. Although the medical profession and the travel industry can provide extensive help and sound advice, it remains the traveller’s responsibility (see 1.8) to seek information, to understand the risks involved and to take the necessary precautions to protect their health while travelling.