Background: Clinical and research electives abroad offer medical students many unique experiences. However, participating in an unfamiliar health-care setting combined with limited medical experience may place students at risk of illness. To improve pre-and post-travel care, we assessed the health risks and the quality and comprehensiveness of pre-and post-travel care in a cohort of Dutch medical students returning form an elective abroad.
Methods: All medical students who had performed an elective in the tropics between July 2006 and December 2008 were sent an informative email asking them to complete a web-based questionnaire.
Results: 180 of 242 (74%) students completed the questionnaire. Regarding the risk of bloodborne viral infection: 67% of all students and 32% of junior students engaged in procedures that constitute a risk of exposure to bloodborne viral infection, often in countries with high HIV prevalence rates. None of nine students who experienced possible or certain mucosal or percutaneous exposure to potentially infectious body fluids reported the exposure at the time it occurred and none used PEP. Regarding other health risks: 8 of 40 (20%) students stopped using mefloquine due to adverse effects. This left a sizeable proportion unprotected in countries that are hyperendemic for malaria. Post-travel screening for schistosomiasis, tuberculosis (tuberculin skin test) and carriage of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) encompassed approximately half of all students who should have been screened.
Conclusions: Based on the results of this study we have adopted an integral set of measures to reduce the health risks associated with an elective abroad. The pre and post-travel consult has been centralized and standardized as well as the distribution of PEP. In addition we have developed a mandatory module on Global Health for all medical students planning an elective abroad.