Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
October 4, 1999

As director of The Emory Clinic's TravelWell and Tropical Disease Unit, Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky has heard it all. From Coca-Cola executives nervous about chills and fever during a far-East trek, to world travelers on dialysis, pregnant women traveling to remote areas of developing countries, illnesses among Delta Airlines flight crews halfway around the world, exotic parasites or leprosy among new refugees in Atlanta, Dr. Kozarsky is challenged by at least one new exotic travel enigma daily.

Since 1988, Emory's TravelWell Clinic has been conducting personal travel assessments and physical exams and dispensing prescriptions, immunizations, education, treatment and down-home advice both pre- and post-travel to businesses and individuals throughout Atlanta and to others referred from around the country. Through contacts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a worldwide network of physicians, TravelWell maintains 24-hour-a-day, up-to-the minute information about specific health risks, emerging diseases and healthcare practitioners and facilities in other countries.

In addition to large international business clients like Coke, Delta and Scientific Atlanta, TravelWell works with smaller businesses, missionary and volunteer organizations like Habitat for Humanity and individual tourists seeking safety in foreign travel. Post-travel consultations and treatment also are a large part of the program, as well as consultations with foreign visitors, immigrants and refugees.

TravelWell's main offices are located on the campus of Emory's Crawford Long Hospital in midtown, with branches opening at The Emory Clinic Perimeter and the 1525 Building on the Emory campus.

Dr. Kozarsky's travel services include a videotape she produced about healthy travel that is viewed by Delta pilots and flight attendants, and health information specific to crews that will be included on Delta's computer intranet system. Coke employees traveling abroad check in with TravelWell in person or by telephone before an overseas trip. She also has developed a recommended travel health kit for business and individual travelers, and numerous materials for the medical community, the public and the travel industry that address travel and tropical medicine issues. She is a consultant to the CDC branch that is responsible for the development of the U.S. health recommendations for travel.

Dr. Kozarsky is one of the founding members of the International Society of Travel Medicine, an international medical society whose goal is to educate health care professionals and the public regarding travel, migration and refugee health issues. Through a grant from the CDC, the society created GeoSentinel, a global network of travel and tropical medicine providers that helps detect geographic and temporal changes in the occurrence of infectious diseases affecting international travelers, immigrants and refugees. GeoSentinel is under the direction of Dr. Kozarsky, Dr. David Freedman at the University of Alabama and colleagues at the CDC.

"Several years ago, a number of government and non-government organizations recognized the need to address the problem of emerging infections in this country," Dr. Kozarsky says. "International travel plays a major role, as it only takes 24 to 36 hours to travel anywhere in the world, which is less than the incubation period for many illnesses." In August, President Clinton's personal physician, Connie Mariano, M.D., invited Dr. Kozarsky to the White House to discuss mutual interests.

The biggest health threats to international travelers are from diseases and experiences that have no official prevention requirements, which is why education is so important, Dr. Kozarsky emphasizes. "For example, hepatitis A is extremely common in developing countries, and the hepatitis A vaccine is the most cost-effective vaccine available to travelers, yet it is not required," she reports. And traveler's diarrhea is quite common and debilitating, yet it is easily preventable or treatable.

"As Atlanta becomes more of an international city, and as people become more adventuresome, we can provide not only medical expertise and an extensive network of travel medicine specialists, but also experience in handling the vast cultural differences that affect health care," says Dr. Kozarsky.