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Dr Dipti Patel discusses key potential hazards and challenges, which could initially appear harmless, that should be considered when carrying out a risk assessment for business or leisure travel.
Risk assessment is an integral part of pre-travel assessment, and largely determines the advice and interventions given to the traveller. It is the process by which one identifies the hazards that a traveller might be exposed to, evaluates the risk associated with those hazards and determines how to manage them.
The art of risk assessment is to identify and characterise material risks to health that may require control, taking into account both the seriousness of potential outcomes as well as their likelihood.
Epidemiology of travel-related illness
One of the challenges of determining risk of illness is that understanding of the epidemiology of travel-related disease is limited. Figures for disease risk in travellers can not be accurate because it is difficult to ascertain the exact numbers of travellers to specific destinations, or the cases of illness or injury in travellers.
Furthermore, a great deal of the commonly quoted statistics regarding the incidence of illness or injury in travellers are based on the extrapolation of limited data, collected from morbidity studies, which vary in methodology. These studies have mostly focused on specific diseases, travellers to tropical destinations or specific traveller groups.
For overseas travellers, the risk assessment requires knowledge of the traveller, their itinerary, their destination, the potential health risks and diseases, and the available preventive measures.
Three broad categories need to be considered: individual; itinerary and destination; and activity-related factors. In the case of those who are travelling for work purposes, the latter will also include consideration of occupational hazards. Box 1: Factors to consider during the risk assessment summarises some of the key information that should be considered as part of the risk assessment.