Rabies causes thousands of deaths worldwide and trips to rabies endemic countries are popular. Travellers are often uncertain whether pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is advisable since they find it difficult to estimate the exposure risk during travel and the availability of post-exposure prophylaxis in endemic regions. The aim of this study was to determine the potential rabies exposures in travellers and to assess their knowledge on rabies. Secondly, we explored the access to appropriate post-exposure medical care in respective countries.
We conducted a cross-sectional study at Frankfurt Airport. Returning adult travellers arriving from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South and Central America were invited to participate in this questionnaire-based study while waiting in the baggage claim area.
Over a one-month recruitment phase in March 2019, we enrolled 3066 travellers; 2929 were included in the analysis. The gender ratio was balanced; the median age was 42 years (range 18-83 years). Participants arrived from Asia (46%), Africa (29%), Central/South America (13%), the Middle East (8%) and the Caribbean (8%). Forty-five per cent sought pretravel advice and 22% received ≥2 injections of rabies PrEP. Travellers with pretravel advice from tropical medicine specialists reached significantly higher knowledge scores than others. We found that potential rabies exposure occurred in 2.0% (57/2915) of travellers with 31% (13/42) of the contacts being unprovoked; 19% (8/42) of the exposed sought medical care and 3/8 were adequately treated before returning to Germany. Risk factors for animal exposure were: male sex, young age, trips to Asia and a long stay abroad (>4 weeks).
A total of 2% of returning travellers (n = 2915) experienced a potential rabies exposure during their journey. A majority of the exposed individuals did not seek medical care; those seeking medical care were often treated inadequately. Rabies information must be emphasised during pretravel counselling and PrEP should be offered generously, especially to travellers with high exposure risks.