Background. The rise of international travel has increased the need for more, improved travel advice from physicians and public health facilities. The quality of the health information given has not been examined on a large-scale basis by many studies, however. Surveys in Canada, Switzerland, and the United States, for example, report that only 20% to 50% of practitioners could give accurate information regarding immunizations and prophylaxis about travel-related disease.

Methods. Anonymous surveys were sent to 1165 American and 96 Canadian public health units and travel clinics. Using five scenarios on travel to developing countries, each source was asked to complete a standardized form giving their recommendations for immunization, antimalarials, travelers' diarrhea, and other travel issues. Of the American respondents, 60% were physicians equally distributed among private practice, university, and corporate clinics; nurses comprised 75% of the Canadian respondents, primarily from public health clinics. The number of travelers counseled per year ranged from 3 to 40,000 (American mean, 448; Canadian mean, 2180).

Results. Depending on the scenario, 20 to 75% of the immunization groups recommended were inadequate or inappropriate: most frequently, lack of tetanus/polio boosters; indiscriminant use of yellow fever/cholera vaccines; haphazard advice about meningococcal, rabies, and typhoid vaccines; and a lack of consideration of measles in young adults. Of the antimalarial recommendations given, 20 to 60% were incorrect, including prescribing medication for nonrisk areas, failure to recognize chloroquine-resistant areas, and failure to understand the use of, or contraindications to, mefloquine. Frequently, acclimatization, altitude sickness, sunscreens, and safe-sex issues were omitted. The prevention and treatment of travelers' diarrhea were adequately covered, however.

Conclusions. Pre-travel advice given by North American health advisors shows a considerable variability in the accuracy and extent necessary for effective travel disease prevention and treatment. Despite the growing efforts to further educate those responsible, higher quality of health advice needs to become a priority.