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Background The European Travel Health Advisory Board conducted a cross-sectional pilot survey to evaluate current travel health knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) and to determine where travelers going to developing countries obtain travel health information, what information they receive, and what preventive travel health measures they employ. Subsequently, the questionnaire used was improved and a cross-sectional, multicenter study was undertaken in airports in Europe, Asia, South Africa and the United States. This paper describes the methods used everywhere, and results from the European airports.

Method Between September 2002 and September 2003, 5,465 passengers residing in Europe and boarding an intercontinental flight to a developing country were surveyed at the departure gates of nine major airports in Europe. Questionnaires were self-administered, and checked for completeness and validated by trained interviewers.

Results Although the majority of travelers (73.3%) had sought general information about their destination prior to departure, only just over half of the responders (52.1%) had sought travel health advice. Tourists and people traveling for religious reasons had sought travel health advice more often, whereas travelers visiting friends and relatives were less likely to do so. Hepatitis A was perceived as the most probable among the infectious diseases investigated, followed by HIV and hepatitis B. In spite of a generally positive attitude towards vaccines, 58.4% and 68.7% of travelers could not report any protection against hepatitis A or hepatitis B, respectively. Only one in three travelers to a destination country with at least some malaria endemicity were carrying antimalarial drugs. Almost one in four travelers visiting a high-risk area had an inaccurate risk perception and even one in two going to a no-risk destination were unnecessarily concerned about malaria.

Conclusions The large variation in destinations, age of the travelers and reasons for traveling illustrates that traveling to a developing country has become common practice. The results of this large-scale airport survey clearly demonstrate an important educational need among those traveling to risk destinations. Initiatives to improve such education should target all groups of travelers, including business travelers, those visiting friends and relatives, and the elderly. Additionally, travel health advice providers should continue their efforts to make travelers comply with the recommended travel health advice. Our common objective is to help travelers stay healthy while abroad, and consequently to also reduce the potential importation of infectious diseases and the consequent public health and other implications.