Life and death on the Amazon: illness and injury to travellers on a South American expedition

Shaw, Marc T. M., and Leggat, Peter A. (2003) Life and death on the Amazon: illness and injury to travellers on a South American expedition. Journal of Travel Medicine, 10 (5). pp. 268-271.

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Background: commercial expeditions provide an opportunity for travelers to undertake various specialized travel to more adventurous destinations in the relative security of an expeditionary group. Little is known about the illnesses and injuries occurring on such expeditions.

Methods: from the commencement of the Blake Expedition in 2001, the expedition physician recorded all illnesses and injuries reported among the crew and also among the indigenous people encountered, while undertaking the expedition. The duration of the expedition was two and a half months, and involved travel by yacht, riverboat and jungle canoe or "bongo". The crew numbered 26 personnel: 24 men, including the expedition physician, and two women.

Results: seventy-eight health problems were reported and recorded among 19 (73.1%) members of the expeditionary team. There was one death, but there were no other major incidents requiring emergency evacuation or hospitalization. Types of illness were largely those related to ear, nose and throat disease (15/78, 19%), injuries (12/87, 15%), bites and stings (12/87, 15%), and respiratory (10/78, 13%), dermatologic (9/78, 12%) and gastroenterologic conditions (7/78, 9%). A further 24 health problems were reported and recorded among 22 indigenous people who approached the expedition physician for treatment. Types of illness were largely related to dermatologic conditions (9/24, 38%), accidents and injuries (4/24, 17%), and malaria (4/24, 17%).

Conclusions: this expedition was both noteworthy and newsworthy because of the death of the team leader, Sir Peter Blake, although the health problems encountered were largely similar to those reported for other expeditions. Tropical disease was uncommon. Adequate pre-trip preparation of expedition teams is considered important, and the inclusion of an expedition physician decreased the reliance on local health services, which are often scarce or absent on more remote-location expeditions. Adequate psychological preparation of expedition teams should also be included, to prepare expedition teams for unexpected outcomes, such as death or severe injury.

Item ID: 6731
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1708-8305
Keywords: Amazon; expedition; illness; injuries; travel health
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2010 03:48
FoR Codes: 11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111799 Public Health and Health Services not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920404 Disease Distribution and Transmission (incl. Surveillance and Response) @ 100%
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