Stay Healthy During Overseas Travel
When you first have kids, it can seem daunting to leave the house, much less leave the country. While they’re still young, you might think it wise to postpone any ambitious travel plans. But think again!
Don’t let your children – and the whole family – miss out on enriching opportunities to experience different cultures and ways of life, and broaden their outlook. Book your flights and follow these tips for safe, healthy and happy travels together.
Are there any particular vaccinations needed for travelling overseas?
First make sure your child’s regular vaccinations are up to date. Let your child’s doctor know where you’ll be going and get the necessary vaccinations at least one month before traveling to ensure that you build up sufficient immunity. Common vaccinations required for overseas travel include Hepatitis A and Typhoid. If you are traveling to an area where malaria is present, you will need to take malaria medication for the entire family.
Find information on recommended vaccinations for specific countries and other travel health information on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.org.
What should I take when traveling with kids?
A well-stocked, lightweight travel first aid kit is essential. Include these items:
• Over-the-counter pain medications: acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil)
• Oral antihistamine medication (Benadryl)
• Pedialyte powder packets for rehydration
• Polysporin or Neosporin
• 1 percent hydrocortisone cream
• Anti-itch gel or cream
• Antibacterial hand wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol
• Insect repellent containing up to 10 percent DEET. Products containing DEET provide the most effective and safe protection against mosquitoes; just make sure you always follow the directions on the product.
Don’t forget any prescription medications (such as inhalers for asthma) your child uses regularly that might be hard to find or refill overseas.
To protect against mosquitoes, pack:
• Lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat
• Flying insect spray (that contains pyrethroid insecticide) to help clear rooms of mosquitoes
• Bed nets treated with permethrin, if you are not sleeping in an air-conditioned or well-screened room in malaria-risk areas. You can also buy permethrin or deltamethrin (another insecticide). These products are safe for use on bed nets and clothes. Follow the directions to ensure safe use.
How can I ease my child’s discomfort with airplane pressurization?
To avoid earaches from change in air pressure during take-off and landing, give your child something to eat or drink. Swallowing helps clear the ears. Even pretend yawning can ease the pressure.
Can you do anything about jet lag?
There is no safe medication for children to help with jet lag. The best thing you can do is to switch over to the local time as soon as you arrive at your destination. Make sure your children are exposed to sunlight, which helps the body adapt to the local time more quickly.
If your child does wake up in the wee hours of the night, keep everything very matter of fact so your child is not stimulated and has a reason to stay awake. Keep the environment dark to help him or her get back to sleep. It can take about two weeks to adjust fully to a new time zone.
Don’t skip regular bedtimes and naps just because you are on vacation. Try to stick to a regular sleep and nap schedule as much as possible, so your children don’t get too tired and have a meltdown during the trip or on the way home.
What can my child eat and drink safely?
Eating and drinking contaminated food and water is one of the main ways you can get sick while travelling. Stay healthy by following these tips:
• Stick to boiled or bottled water. If that is not available when you are out and about sightseeing, choose a carbonated drink (bacteria cannot survive in carbonated liquids). Avoid tap water, water fountains and ice cubes.
• Make sure any food you eat is fully cooked, and don’t be tempted by any delicious smelling goodies from street vendors. Avoid dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized. Choose fruit you can peel, like bananas.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Is there anything else I should plan and pack for?
Always wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after handling money. Bring and make sure your child uses his or her car or booster seat if you will be in a car during the trip. Wear a seatbelt on every car ride and helmet if you are riding a bike or motorbike.
What should I do if I get sick while I’m abroad?
If you are staying with friends or family, ask them for a recommendation for a local doctor.
The U.S. Embassy or Consulate can also provide you with names and addresses of local doctors. To contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country you are visiting, call Overseas Citizens Services at:
1-888-407-4747 (calling from the U.S. or Canada) or +1-202-501-4444 (calling from overseas).
Manisha Panchal, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Santa Clara Center. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.