Background Many of the 1 million Swiss traveling to tropical or subtropical countries book their trip through travel agencies every year. These agencies are thus an important source of information about malaria and other important health risks and little is known about the appropriate health information provided by these.
Method A study was conducted to assess health-related information in members of the Swiss Federation of Travel Agencies in the metropolitan area of Zurich, Switzerland. A covert investigator (F.M.S.) visited these agencies and requested information on a package holiday for 2 or 3 weeks to Kenya. Following an in-person interview, the investigator recorded any health-related information provided on a pretested form. If none was mentioned, the agent was prompted using a standardized procedure.
Results A total of 88 agencies were visited. Spontaneous health advice was given in 44% of all visits. After prompting, 99% of all travel agents mentioned preventive measures against malaria, but only 69% indicated the need for vaccinations against other diseases. Spontaneous advice on malaria risk and vaccinations was better than advice given upon prompting. One fifth of all travel agents neither mentioned malaria prevention measures spontaneously nor recommended seeing a health specialist.
Conclusions Overall, travel medicine knowledge of travel agents in the Zurich area needs improvement as many tended to draw attention to health risks only when prompted. Attitude, personal knowledge, and experience of individual travel agents were key to the health information given. Up-to-date and readily available information on health risks should be provided to travel agencies and structured training given in collaboration with health professionals.