Background: The prevalence and features of travel associated neuropsychiatric problems (NPP) and their relation to previous psychological consultations, antimalarials and recreational drug use have not been adequately studied.
Methods: A two-phase postal and telephone survey has been conducted among 2,500 young travelers to tropical countries. We measured the rate and duration of NPP, characterized their features, and their association with previous psychological profiles, itinerary, type of travel, consumption of recreational drugs, and malaria prophylaxis.
Results: First phase: Out of 1,340 respondents, 151 (11.3%) indicated that they had NPP during travel, in contrast with 2.3% who needed psychological consultation before travel (p<.001). Second phase: 117 of 151 responded to the study questionnaire. The mean age of the respondents was 24.4 years, 54.7% were female, and the mean stay abroad was 5.3 months. The most common NPP were sleeping disturbances (52.1%), fatigue (48.7%) and dizziness (39.3%). Thirty-three travelers (2.5%) had severe symptoms, and 16 (1.2%) had symptoms lasting more than 2 months. Seven travelers had pure or mixed depressive symptoms. Consumption of recreational drugs was admitted by 22.2%. Mefloquine was used significantly more often by those who suffered NPP, than by the entire cohort (98.2% vs. 70.7%; p<.001).
Conclusions: Long-term travel to the tropics was associated, in this cohort, with a considerable rate of neuropsychiatric symptoms. The majority of the responding travelers were females, used mefloquine as prophylaxis, and at least one fifth used recreational drugs.