Episode 77 Fever in the Returning Traveler

In this EM Cases episode with Dr. Nazanin Meshkat, multinational ED doc and Dr. Matthew Muller, infectious disease specialist, we discuss the most common tropical disease killers that we see in patients who present with Fever in the Returning Traveler. Every year an increasing number of people travel abroad, and travelers to tropical destinations are often immunologically naïve to the regions they’re going to. It’s very common for travelers to get sick. In fact, about 2/3 of travelers get sick while they’re traveling or soon after their return, and somewhere between 3 and 19% of travelers to developing countries will develop a fever. Imported diseases, like Malaria, Dengue, Ebola, and Zyka can be acquired abroad and brought back to your ED in unsuspecting individuals. This is serious stuff - you might be surprised to learn that Malaria is responsible for more morbidity and mortality worldwide than any other illness. According to a study in CJEM most emergency physicians have minimal or no specific training in tropical diseases and emergency physicians indicated an unacceptably low level of comfort when faced with patients with tropical disease symptoms. In fact, 40% of the cases were incorrectly diagnosed or managed. And Canadian ED docs aren’t the only ones who’s skill isn’t stellar in this department - a similar 2006 study of UK physicians showed a 78% misdiagnosis rate. This misdiagnosis rate isn’t wholly because of lack of knowledge – it almost certainly also has to do with the vague presentations and huge amount of overlap between so many tropical disease. You might be thinking that it’s impossible to learn all the thousands of details of the dozens of different tropical diseases - true. However, in the ED, while we don’t need to know every detail of every tropical disease, and don’t necessarily need to make the exact diagnosis right away, we do need to have a rational, organized approach to diagnosing and managing fever in the returning traveler, so that we can identify some of the more common serious illnesses like Malaria, Dengue and Typhoid fever, and start timely treatment in the ED.