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Travel Bugs

International travelers struck down by a foreign illness can take comfort that their discomfort could make the world a healthier place. According to a September study by European scientists in the online journal BioMed Central Medicine, tourists are excellent disease sentinels. The researchers propose an epidemiological database to alert health officials in tourist spots of ...

International travelers struck down by a foreign illness can take comfort that their discomfort could make the world a healthier place. According to a September study by European scientists in the online journal BioMed Central Medicine, tourists are excellent disease sentinels. The researchers propose an epidemiological database to alert health officials in tourist spots of the infections travelers contract.

Governments of many destination countries, such as Turkey and India, lack the resources to detect outbreaks. The emergence of a new disease or strain becomes apparent to local officials only after the disease spreads. By using data on travelers to set up an early detection system, countries could obtain invaluable — and low cost — warnings. Modern travel may disperse new diseases rapidly, but it may also allow for earlier detection and response. For example, a similar system could have alerted the Greek authorities to a rare type of salmonella that infected many foreign tourists in 2001.

Some experts doubt that such a system would greatly benefit poor destination countries. Local populations are usually less susceptible to the diseases that affect tourists from the developed world. According to Dr. Bradley Connor, president of the International Society of Travel Medicine, "It would probably be more useful to the tourist-sending countries, which can use the information to inoculate their citizens according to the new data." Either way, tracking travel bugs would bolster the tourism industry and thus, the economies, of some of the world’s poorest countries.

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