Travelers With Sickle Cell Disease


  • Shaina M. Willen MD,

    1. Department of Pediatrics, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA
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  • Courtney D. Thornburg MD,

    1. Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, University of San Diego Medical Center, San Diego, CA, USA
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  • Paul M. Lantos MD, CTH

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease
    2. Division of General Internal Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA
    • Corresponding Author: Paul M. Lantos, MD, CTH, Divisions of Pediatric Infectious Disease and General Internal Medicine (DUMC), Durham 100800, NC 27710, USA. E-mail:

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Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common genetic disease among persons with African ancestry. This article provides a background to SCD and reviews many important aspects of travel preparation in this population.


The medical literature was searched for studies on travel-associated preparedness and complications in individuals with SCD. Topics researched included malaria, bacterial infections, vaccinations, dehydration, altitude, air travel, and travel preparedness.


There is very little published literature that specifically addresses the risks faced by travelers with SCD. Rates of medical complications during travel appear to be high. There is a body of literature that describes complications of SCD in indigenous populations, particularly within Africa. The generalizability of these data to a traveler is uncertain. Combining these sources of data and the broader medical literature, we address major travel-related questions that may face a provider preparing an individual with SCD for safe travel.


Travelers with SCD face considerable medical risks when traveling to developing tropical countries, including malaria, bacterial infections, hypovolemia, and sickle cell-associated vaso-occlusive crises. For individuals with SCD, frank counseling about the risks, vigilant preventative measures, and contingency planning for illness while abroad are necessary aspects of the pre-travel visit.