Travel in Good Health
Traveling with children, no matter their age, can be a joyful, tiring, exciting and exhausting endeavor. Traveling with children who get sick on the trip is just plain exhausting and, sometimes, exciting in a way that we don’t want to experience.
Prevention is key, and no one does that better than the CDC. This article captures some tips for traveling families from CDC’s website, and a few other places.
If anyone in your travel group has an existing condition that may affect his or her health, it’s important to discuss travel health safety with a healthcare provider.
If you’re traveling outside the United States and you love detail, download a copy of CDC’s Yellow Book . It’s written for healthcare providers, but many people find it useful. Wherever you’re traveling, these suggestions may help you and yours avoid infectious diseases on the road.
There are steps you can take prior to departure that will protect you and your kids, and many things you can do while traveling. First, the pre-departure list:
Time Zones and Rest
If you’re changing time zones, spend a few days just before travel adjusting your sleep/wake periods to match the destination’s time zones. When you arrive, get out during the sunny periods so that you body realizes it’s time to be awake. Good sleep is critical to good health. Make sure everyone gets lots of rest a few days before and then during the trip.
You and your kids should be up-to-date on currently recommended vaccines in the U.S.
If you’re traveling outside the United States, you need to check the destination country for recommended vaccines for you and your children, and if you have special health concerns , you need to determine which vaccines to get and which you should not have. Not all vaccines recommended for international travel are licensed for children.
If you’re traveling outside the U.S., read the CDC’s Health Notices first to get the latest updates on infectious diseases in various areas of the world. What you learn may affect your travel plans.
First Aid Kits
Prepare a first aid kit for the trip or purchase one from a commercial vendor. This is a sample list, as not all destinations require the same things.
Discuss with your family’s pediatrician any special needs your children might have that require you to prepare beyond this basic list. Also, your pediatrician may be able to give you sample sizes of antibiotics and other meds that may be useful for your kit.
Check travel regulations and carry what you can onboard the plane, particularly prescription medication. Put the rest in your checked baggage. Put your first aid kit in a fanny pack or backpack that you take with you everywhere you go. There’s no sense bringing the kit if you don’t have it when you need it.
Now that you’ve done your pre-departure prep, here are some tips for problems you may encounter on the road.
Bugs—potential disease carriers
Some bugs carry certain diseases, such as West Nile virus, malaria, dengue and others. Whether you’re in Napa Valley, the Sahara or the Alps, there are steps you can take to avoid infection.
Diarrhea—a common health problem when traveling
Babies and small children have developing immune systems and are less able to fight off diarrhea and other foodborne and waterborne infections. Little ones who are crawling or walking around and putting things in their mouths increase their exposure risk.
Breastfeeding helps eliminate foodborne and waterborne transmission to infants.
Use purified water for drinking, ice cubes, formula, brushing teeth, washing food if eating food raw, or just anytime you’d use water. Purify the water, unless you know the water source is safe.
Wash hands with soap and water frequently each day and certainly before eating anything and before preparing foods, after changing diapers, after going to the restroom, after coming in from outdoor activities (this includes shopping!), when you get up in the morning and before going to bed at night. Use soap and water if available and always when you can see any grime on the hands. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used to help disinfect your hands.
Pacifiers and other items made to go into a baby’s mouth that you bring or buy on the trip need frequent cleaning.
Don’t eat food from street vendors. Make sure all your food is either cooked thoroughly or washed with purified water and, if applicable, peeled.
Dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting
Infants and young children can easily become dehydrated due to diarrhea and vomiting. They need plenty of liquids each time they have a watery stool or vomit. If you’re unaware of the signs of dehydration, you should read up on it prior to departure. Prevention is the best thing, but just in case, there are commercial oral rehydration solutions, or you can make your own. Here are some suggestions from rehydration.org:
Make sure the rehydration drink has in it starches and/or sugars, a little sodium and some potassium. Breastmilk is great for those nursing, or watery cooked cereal, carrot soup, or rice water is fine as long as they’re made with purified water.
You can make a simple solution yourself by using salt and sugar (molasses, raw sugar or white sugar) and something like orange juice or mashed banana for potassium. Add one teaspoon of salt to eight teaspoons of sugar and stir into a liter of boiled and cooled water, stirring until everything is dissolved.
Fresh fruit juice, weak tea or even simply boiled and cooled water will help, if nothing else is available.
For more information on what to do about diarrhea and dehydration, listen to Nurse Mary Beth’s podcast on gastroenteritis.
Parasites in the soil
There are parasites in sand and soil where children love to play. They should wear enclosed footwear and play on a tarp or covering. Don’t put clothing or towels on the ground to dry, and iron anything you hang out to dry before using. All of these precautions are dependent on your destination, of course.
Children are more likely to be bitten by animals yet less likely to tell parents about the bite. Remind the children to stay away from animals and to report any wound immediately. If a child is bitten or wounded, wash the area with soap and water and take the child in for evaluation. If possible, bring the animal in as well.
Water and infectious agents
Children and adults can pick up illnesses or infections by swallowing or simply being in contact with contaminated water. If you don’t know the area, don’t swim in fresh, unchlorinated water and, depending on where you travel, be careful with washing in the bathtub.
Before traveling, check your health insurance policy to see what it pays for. It will probable reimburse you for most of the cost of emergency medical care abroad, excluding any deductible or co-payment. For non-emergency care overseas, you may be covered, but check with your health plan about this before you leave home. Failure to get authorization may mean denial of reimbursement.
Now that you’re thoroughly grossed out at the thought of all those infectious diseases waiting for you on your trip, we should say that it’s really about taking practical precautions and the level and type of precautions will be determined by your destination.
Important disclaimer: The information on pkids.org is for educational purposes only and should not be considered to be medical advice. It is not meant to replace the advice of the physician who cares for your child. All medical advice and information should be considered to be incomplete without a physical exam, which is not possible without a visit to your doctor.
In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.
Harold S. Kushner