Risk Perception of Travelers to Tropical and Subtropical Countries Visiting a Swiss Travel Health Center


  • This paper was presented at the 12th Conference of the International Society of Travel Medicine in Boston, MA, USA, May 8–12, 2011.

Corresponding Author: Rosalie Zimmermann, MD, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Medical and Diagnostic Services, Socinstrasse 57, CH-4002 Basel, Switzerland. E-mail: rosalie.zimmermann@unibas.ch



This study assessed the risk perception ratings of travelers pre- and post-travel and in comparison to the ratings by travel health experts. While most surveys on travel health knowledge, attitudes, and practices focus on malaria and vaccine-preventable diseases, noninfectious travel risks were included in this study.


Pre- and post-travel perception of nine travel-associated health risks was recorded among 314 travelers to tropical and subtropical destinations. All travelers sought pre-travel health advice at the Travel Clinic of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in 2008 and 2009. In addition, 18 Swiss travel health experts provided an assessment of the respective risks. A validated visual psychometric measuring instrument was used [pictorial representation of illness and self measure (PRISM)].


Travelers and experts rated most risks similarly, except for accidents and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which experts rated higher. Compared to other risks, accidents ranked highly in both groups and were the only risk perceived higher after travel. Pre- and post-travel perceptions of all other risks were similar with a tendency to be lower after travel. Travelers perceived mosquitoes to be the highest risk before travel and accidents after travel.


Travelers' risk perception appears to be accurate for most risks stated in this study. However, travel health professionals should be aware that some perception patterns among travelers regarding travel-related health risks may be different from professional risk assessment. Important but insufficiently perceived health risks, such as sexual behavior/STIs and accidents, should be considered to be part of any pre-travel health advice package.