Background Every year, millions of people travel to countries where rabies is enzootic. However, the quality of rabies-specific information provided by travel health advisors and the extent of their knowledge about pre- and postexposure prophylaxis have not been examined on a large-scale basis up to now.
Methods 5,780 German physicians and pharmacists, who identified themselves as active travel health advisors, were chosen from a database. The selected providers were asked to complete an Internet-based questionnaire. The form requested both demographic information and the assessment of different concrete scenarios, each of which featured individuals seeking pretravel advice on rabies or appropriate postexposure treatment after returning from abroad.
Results Overall, 496 physicians and pharmacists completed the questionnaire. Almost all respondents indicated that they would mention the risk of rabies and appropriate preventive measures to long-term travelers and tourists planning to visit rural areas. However, only 35% to 60% of the advisors would provide this information to individuals on business trips, package tours, or travelers in urban centers as well. The assessment of the scenarios yielded 51% to 98% of adequate advice. Potentially harmful decisions included, for instance, the failure to recommend further prophylactic measures after exposure of already vaccinated people or the fact that the necessary postexposure prophylaxis was inappropriately withheld in cases where treatment had been initially delayed.
Conclusions Although the participants of this study were well aware of the travel-associated rabies risks and provided adequate information about this health hazard to most of their clients, evident flaws exist regarding the correct assessment of specific situations in pre- and postexposure rabies prophylaxis. Our findings therefore provide important cues on topics that should be more intensely covered during future postgraduate training in travel medicine and also underline the need for more practically orientated, readily available information on specific prophylactic treatment against rabies.