by Damon Fillman
Penn Medicine introduced a new facility in Chestnut Hill last month with a very specific orientation not normally found in a catalogue of hospital departments. The office on 33 East Chestnut Hill Ave., which opened Sept. 5, is addressing the needs of travelers who have potentially been exposed to diseases related to their travels.
The office is being managed by Dr. Stephen J. Gluckman, director of Penn Global Medicine. Due to an increase in international travel, The Department of Medicine has decided to open the facility in a community it feels is without adequate services. It intends to provide services to Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Germantown, Abington, Whitemarsh and surrounding suburban neighborhoods. Dr. Harvey Rubin, Professor of Medicine of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, will be the additional physician on staff.
“As international travel continues to become popular, there’s an increased need for pre-travel advice and for post-travel health evaluations in persons who believe that their illness is related to recent international travel,” explained Leslie A. Allen, clinical administrator of the division of infectious diseases.
“Part of the reason for choosing Chestnut Hill was because this is a part of the city where there presently is no similar option for patients. Dr. Gluckman and Dr. Rubin both have extensive international medical experience and training, and there is one support person at the facility and one administrative assistant for scheduling and other purposes. This approach to travel medicine is very different than other competitors who use non-physician providers with limited to no international medical experience and training.”
(Ed. Note: For those who may feel that travel-related medicine is not a topic of major concern, I would point out that countless millions of Native Americans died after coming into contact with Europeans for the first time — and vice-versa, although many more Native Americans died from this social contact than Europeans — because their immune systems were not equipped to protect against disease organisms they had never encountered before. Although immune systems tend to be much more responsive today because of the exponential increase in international travel and multi-ethnic contacts, it is still an area of concern and risk, as anyone who has ever caught “Montezuma’s Revenge” can attest.)
“We see patients for pre-travel advice and for post-travel evaluation should they get ill,” said Dr. Gluckman. “I do not think that most travelers or most primary care providers are generally comfortable with either.”
Dr. Gluckman believes that providing these services is much more complicated than evaluating potential diseases by the traveler’s intended destination and then offering a suitable vaccine. That’s because different regions of the same country can be incubators for different diseases, so it might be unwise to vaccine for yellow fever because the traveler is headed to Kenya and the country is known for that particular disease. “Unnecessary immunizations are costly and have the potential for side effects,” he said.
In addition to the common questions patients may have related to travel, Dr. Gluckman emphasizes the need for travelers to consider water and food safety, safe air and automobile travel, locating healthcare facilities, swimming, pregnancy and other issues that they may overlook. Penn Medicine currently has a medical facility in Chestnut Hill, so the decision to add a location that focuses on international travel is adding to a reciprocal relationship between the two hospitals.
Dr. Gluckman, who is trained to deal with infectious diseases and has traveled extensively around the world, predicts that illnesses like malaria, typhoid, dengue and a variety of parasites can only be diagnosed and treated by specifically trained professionals. Because he has traveled to all seven continents, Gluckman is also prepared to provide itinerary advice if a traveler is looking for cultural and geographical information.
Without having to visit his new office in Chestnut Hill, Dr. Gluckman believes there are a few things all travelers should think of before leaving for their destination: assume water is not safe unless told so by someone that you trust; adding alcohol to water will not necessarily make it safe, but adding five drops of iodine to a liter of water will make it safe from most diseases, and any water that has been boiled, like tea or coffee, is safe for consumption. Additional queries can be answered on site.
For appointments or more information, call 1-800-789-PENN (7366).