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Background

School-organized travels abroad provide an opportunity for students to undertake supervised travel that reinforces scholastic study of various geographical locations under the direction and protection of experienced tour leaders and health professional support. Little is known concerning the nature of illnesses and injuries occurring on overseas school excursions. This study was designed to investigate the prevalence of injury and illness suffered by older teenagers on a school excursion to South America.

Methods

In 2010, the school's tour physician (EH) diagnosed and recorded all illnesses and injuries among 29 school girls and 6 accompanying adults on a school excursion to Peru. Information recorded included age, sex, the nature of the presenting illness, number of days into the tour, the assessment of the condition, and the treatment employed during the excursion's field phase of 21 days.

Results

A total of 32 (91%) travelers sought medical advice at least once for a total of 371 consultations, resulting in 153 separate diagnoses. The mean age of the students was 16 years with six adults accompanying the students being significantly older. Primary illnesses diagnosed were related to the following systems and conditions: gastrointestinal (58, 37%), respiratory (25, 16%), altitude sickness (19, 12%), genitourinary (8, 5%), dermatological (10, 7%), trauma (7, 5%), neurological (7, 5%), anxiety or psychological adjustment (7, 5%), adverse drug reactions (4, 3%), and musculoskeletal (5, 3%). The most commonly used medications were antidiarrheal and antiemetic medication. There were six accidents during the journey resulting in minor soft-tissue injuries. There were no deaths or other major accidents requiring emergency evacuation or hospitalization.

Conclusions

On this school excursion, the health problems encountered were consistent with those reported for other specialized tours, including expeditions and premium tours, although altitude illness needs to be carefully planned for in tours to higher elevation destinations as in South America. As well as being part of the service provided to the school students, the inclusion of a physician with appropriate medical supplies for this tour increased the independence of the travel group. A proposed medical kit for such an excursion is presented.