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Thursday 27th October 2016

Travellers can help track diseases

31st January 2007

Wealthy travellers wandering through poor nations make excellent sentinels for disease, according to epidemiologists.

Kevin Kain, an epidemiologist at the Toronto General Research Institute in Ontario, says travellers who get off the beaten track could be a valuable resource in tracking the development of diseases because their immune systems are like blank slates in the new environment. "Immunologically, they're like a one-year old," he says. "They're a canary in the coal mine."

If travellers get sick, sometimes their information is recorded in a database, but it isn't systematically shared with the developing nations where the disease came from, says Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York.

Some researchers suggest that a single report of an infected traveller could be enough to sound an alarm about an epidemic, which would trigger a better inspection of travel surveillance networks and data sharing with the country concerned, although false alarms could pose a problem.

And there was no guarantee that the source country would have the resources to tackle the outbreak, they added.


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