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Background

Development and humanitarian aid workers are a diverse group of travelers who, because of the nature of their travel, may have specific travel-related health risks. The main objective of this study was to quantify the risk of dengue fever virus (DFV), tuberculosis (TB), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections in a group of long-term development aid volunteers.

Methods

Medical files of Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) volunteers and their accompanying family/partner/spouse serving over 17 years (1995–2011) were reviewed. Demographics, destination, months spent in-country, and, where available, results of pre- and post-assignment testing for DFV, TB, HCV and HIV infections were extracted.

Results

Results from 652 assignments were audited. Conversion rates were calculated when both pre- and post-assignment results were available. Evidence of dengue fever seroconversion was found in 6.3% of 205 volunteers [at a rate of 3.4 per 1,000 person months (pm) on assignment], with assignments in Southeast Asia having the highest risk. Evidence of TB during assignment was found in 2.9% of 336 volunteers converting at a rate of 1.4 per 1,000 pm. There were no HIV or HCV infections detected. On post-assignment questioning, 6.7% of volunteers reported unprotected sex with someone other than their regular partner and 9.8% reported a potential exposure to blood and/or blood products.

Conclusions

Infection with DFV and TB occurred in this group at rates similar to that seen in other groups of long-term travelers, and screening would appear to be warranted. While none contracted HIV or HCV infection, reported behavior did put them at risk of blood- and body fluid-borne diseases. It is important that pre-assignment travel health preparation in this group focuses on strategies to minimize these risks.