Travelers with sickle cell disease

J Travel Med. 2014 Sep-Oct;21(5):332-9. doi: 10.1111/jtm.12142. Epub 2014 Jun 19.


Background: Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common genetic disease among persons with African ancestry. This article provides a background to SCD and reviews many important aspects of travel preparation in this population.

Methods: The medical literature was searched for studies on travel-associated preparedness and complications in individuals with SCD. Topics researched included malaria, bacterial infections, vaccinations, dehydration, altitude, air travel, and travel preparedness.

Results: There is very little published literature that specifically addresses the risks faced by travelers with SCD. Rates of medical complications during travel appear to be high. There is a body of literature that describes complications of SCD in indigenous populations, particularly within Africa. The generalizability of these data to a traveler is uncertain. Combining these sources of data and the broader medical literature, we address major travel-related questions that may face a provider preparing an individual with SCD for safe travel.

Conclusions: Travelers with SCD face considerable medical risks when traveling to developing tropical countries, including malaria, bacterial infections, hypovolemia, and sickle cell-associated vaso-occlusive crises. For individuals with SCD, frank counseling about the risks, vigilant preventative measures, and contingency planning for illness while abroad are necessary aspects of the pre-travel visit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developing Countries
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Malaria / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation*
  • Travel Medicine
  • Travel*
  • Vaccination / statistics & numerical data*