International travel has a direct impact on public health. Let’s look at the challenges that relatively fast and affordable international travel is having on public health and the factors that make public health administration far more challenging today than it was in the past. We’ll also provide examples of how international travel has impacted public health around the world.
The Speed at Which Infections Travel
Airlines allow people traveling for business, pleasure, and personal reasons to take a disease around the world in a matter of hours. The Chinese bird flu epidemic, for example, became a worldwide problem when business people, tourists, and parents adopting children all brought it home before the virus itself was fully identified. Airplanes also multiply the odds of respiratory infections, as one person with active TB coughing on a plane exposes other people on board far more than the exposure they’d get if they just walked past the coughing person on the street. And because many of those take other flights to their final destination, one infected person on a flight can spark a global epidemic.
Exotic Diseases Pop Up in Unprepared Locations
The Ebola outbreak in Dallas, Texas a few years ago, brought by a man who helped a woman in the last stages of Ebola go to a hospital and then booked a flight to Texas, ostensibly to visit family, brought the disease to the United States. He died, but not before infecting a nurse and others. Chagas disease has killed people in the United States, a nation unprepared to treat it.
Migration without Health Screening
The unvaccinated traveler or someone simply lacking immunity to endemic diseases when visiting a nation with the disease has chances of bringing it back. Sometimes, immigrants end up being carriers of infectious diseases their host countries are unprepared for. London had a recent hike in tuberculosis due partly to recent migrations. This will become a challenge for anyone earning a master of public health degree, who has to deal with the complexity of public policy that fosters the spread of disease and protecting the public’s safety.
Herd Immunity Is Nearly Meaningless
Herd immunity refers to the degree to which a group is immune to a virus, and in the case of modern society, immunization rates. Some parents refuse to vaccinate their children in the incorrect belief that vaccines cause autism and that the diseases that these vaccinations prevent are eradicated. This is a major issue those with an MPH degree will have to contend with in the future. However, the historically low cost of international travel means that unvaccinated children in the United States might end up becoming carriers through travel at increasing rates.
Public health officials must now deal with increasing rates of diseases thought eradicated in the West due to recent population movements. New diseases like Ebola spread incredibly fast and become global concerns due to the ease with which people can leave infected areas while being infected themselves. These challenges will have to be met with more help and education.