Travel related illness in short-term volunteers from the UK to developing countries

Travel Med Infect Dis. 2012 Jul;10(4):172-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2012.04.002. Epub 2012 May 28.


People of all ages volunteer in developing countries, but little is known about the health risks they face. InterHealth, a travel clinic, provides a health screening service for short-term overseas volunteers. A cross-sectional study design was used to analyse 413 post-travel health questionnaires completed between February and November 2009. The sample consisted of volunteers who worked on short-term projects in developing countries for a variety of non-governmental organisations. At least one sick day was taken by 137 (33.2%) participants. Medical care was accessed by 39 (9.6%) participants, and standby medication was used by 87 (21.6%) participants. Diarrhoea, especially amongst those aged under 20 or who visited Latin America, was the most commonly reported health problem (95; 23.9%). Possible exposure to schistosomiasis was reported by 56 (13.8%) participants, mostly from East Africa. Upon return, the majority of participants (371; 91.2%) reported feeling well. The findings of this study show the importance of tailored post-travel health screening for short-term overseas volunteers. This study may help to tailor pre-departure travel health consultations for this group, particularly around food hygiene, hand washing and potential exposure to infection, but further research is needed to assess the impact of pre-travel health advice.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data
  • Diarrhea / epidemiology*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Hand Disinfection
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Malaria / epidemiology
  • Malaria / transmission
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Schistosomiasis / epidemiology*
  • Schistosomiasis / transmission
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Travel*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Volunteers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult