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April 8, 2002

As travel improves, clinic is there to help

By Janet Christenbury


The latest Travel Confidence Survey by the Travel Industry Association of America shows the highest percentage of Americans since Sept. 11 planning to take at least one leisure trip in the next six months. Sixty-five percent of Americans have leisure travel plans, and 66 percent of business travelers say they expect to take at least one trip in the first half of 2002.

Those statistics are good news for Emory’s TravelWell clinics. Located in the new medical office tower at Crawford Long, with a branch in the Emory Clinic/Emory Hospital, the TravelWell clinics see a variety of patients preparing to travel abroad. The staff conducts personal travel assessments and physical exams while dispensing prescriptions, immunizations and education about the patient’s destination. Post-travel treatment, if necessary, also is provided upon the patient’s return.

“A preventive, pre-travel education, in so many ways, should be one of the first things a person considers when planning a trip abroad,” said TravelWell Director Phyllis Kozarsky, professor of medicine and infectious diseases.

“It only takes 24 to 36 hours to travel anywhere in the world, which is less than the incubation period for many illnesses. Knowing your risks and getting the proper immunizations and education before you leave town are all vital parts of planning a good trip.”

TravelWell provides services to individual families, missionaries, volunteer organizations and large corporations, including Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines and CNN. The clinics also offer consultations with foreign visitors, immigrants and refugees new to the Atlanta area.

“At this time, corporate business travelers make up about 50 percent of our clientele,” Kozarsky said. “Since Sept. 11, we’ve been seeing a number of people coming in for vaccinations and prescriptions before traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan for extended periods of work. The clinics are definitely catering to the business population now. But as spring and summer both approach, we will likely see more leisure travelers.”

A travel and tropical medicine specialist, Kozarsky realized the need for TravelWell after returning from a trip to India with acute pneumonia and a gastrointestinal illness. “I was very sick and hospitalized for days,” she remembered. “I got my shots but did nothing else to avoid medical problems while I was in India. Even though I am a physician, I wasn’t a very well-prepared traveler.”

TravelWell maintains around-the-clock and up-to-the-minute information about specific health risks and emerging diseases through a network called GeoSentinel, which Kozarsky oversees. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the network is described as a worldwide surveillance group of physicians in 30 travel clinics designed to capture information on emerging infectious diseases. The data from this unique network is used to develop health recommendations for travelers.

One of the early pioneers in the field of travel medicine, Kozarsky has been instrumental in advancing clinical tropical medicine and traveler’s health, both professionally and from a public-awareness standpoint. She is one of the founding members (and is now president-elect) of the International Society of Travel Medicine, whose goal is to educate health care professionals and the public regarding travel, migration and refugee health issues.

“Because prevention is so important when traveling to overseas destinations, we hope Atlantans will take advantage of our services before they board the airplane,” Kozarsky said.