This time of year finds many of us traveling to far-off destinations. We usually will plan the trip using algorithms such as web-based tools and personal heuristics. Most trips go off without a hitch, but sometimes you experience something unexpected that could have been avoided.

Risk Assessment for Travel Health Medicine

With experience many people become more adventuresome. The presence of risk may go unrecognized as one anticipates the journey. 

The sources of risk seem endless – food, water, insects, bacteria, parasites, fungi, weather, the environment, violence and transport. A simple rule-based algorithm can help to identify high risk behaviors that can translate to greater travel risk:

IF: You want to get in touch with the environment,  to go native, to ignore travel advice, to act impulsively, to hug animals, to use drugs or to engage in sex with strangers

THEN you are at greater risk when you travel.

Risk Mitigation

Any risk can be mitigated with a little planning and some action. One issue is balancing the cost and risk of prevention versus the potential danger. Algorithms can be very helpful in identifying problems and ways to avoid them. Only by considering the facts can you make an informed decision.

Some people will not take prophylactic medications or be vaccinated because they have safety concerns. Sometimes these concerns are valid. More often than not the benefits outweigh the risks. A good example is avoiding malaria. You can reduce your risk of malaria in several ways – prophylactic drugs, bed netting, window screens, insect repellents and avoiding certain activities. As resistant strains of malaria spread, the need for the right antimalarial becomes essential. Doing the right thing at the right time makes all the difference.


When problems arise they need to be addressed. Normal problem-solving abilities may be impaired due to jet lag, exhaustion and unfamiliar surroundings. So you need to be prepared. Algorithms that you take with you, will function when you cannot…

Some of the most common problems involve medications. How do you adjust medications between time zones or handle a forgotten dose? What do you do if you have lost or run out of an essential drug? Are you taking along a pain medication that is illegal at your destination?

If you should need medical help during or after the trip, then any number of problems can arise. You may have difficulty communicating with healthcare providers overseas. You might have brought back something that your doctor is unfamiliar with. Some tests for infectious agents may be optimized for local strains and may not recognize a foreign strain, or they may not be readily available. Hopefully you are going to a doctor who uses medical algorithms to deal with unfamiliar diseases or symptoms.

Be as Smart as You Think You Are

Before you leave (or as you sit at the airport, on a boat or in a hotel room) you can invest a little time to avoid problems later.

  • Have an itinerary and share it with family and friends.
  • Keep a diary with omissions and commission.
  • Be compliant with medications.
  • Consider medical evacuation insurance.
  • Download some medical algorithms that can help you travel safely.

Here’s a list of 9 travel-related algorithms that may be helpful when you’re on the road:

  1. Adjustment of Insulin Dose for Travel Between Several Time Zones
  2. Traveler’s Diarrhea due to Cyclospora Cayetanensis
  3. Classifying the Risk of Malaria Transmission For a Traveler
  4. Guidelines for Air Travel by a Person with Advanced Lung Disease
  5. Recommendations for Air Travel after a Pneumothorax
  6. When to Refer a Patient with an Embedded Fish Hook to a Specialist for Removal
  7. Symptom Severity Scale for Ciguatera Fish Poisoning
  8. Precautions for Handling and Eating Seafood and Shellfish to Minimize the Risk of Infectious Disease Transmission
  9. Crotalid Snakebite Severity Score