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Diagnosing Fever in Returning Travelers

If you become sick after traveling to a tropical area, developing country, or a part of the world where sanitation is poor, it’s important to see a doctor. The illness may be caused by a condition unrelated to travel, such as a respiratory or urinary tract infection, or it may be caused by a travel-associated infection, such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, or typhoid fever.

NYU Langone physicians diagnose illnesses in returning travelers and develop effective treatment plans based on the type of infection.

To make a diagnosis, a doctor asks about your symptoms and takes a medical history. He or she also performs a physical exam to look for signs of infection, such as skin lesions or an enlarged liver or spleen. Doctors also use other tools and tests to diagnose the underlying cause of a fever that occurs after travel.

Travel History

Your doctor asks you for detailed information about your recent travels. This may include questions about the countries you’ve visited or the length of time you spent there. Your doctor also wants to know where you lived or traveled while in a country, including even brief stays and airport transfers. Finally, your doctor may ask about the type of activities you participated in during your travels.

Travel-associated infections have different incubation periods. Sharing your travel history helps your doctor identify the illness and its cause.

Blood Test

A simple blood test can help your doctor identify if a parasite is causing the infection, and which type of infection you have.

If your doctor suspects you have malaria, he or she takes a sample of your blood and sends it to a laboratory to test for the parasite. A blood culture test can determine if you have typhoid fever. Blood tests are also used to help diagnose dengue or chikungunya.

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