If you need to visit a ship’s infirmary while cruising with your family, chances are it will be (1) to obtain medications your child needs but you forgot at home or (2) to have your child seen for a minor illness, one you’d handle yourself when at home. Cruises are healthy and safe for children. Significant illnesses and mishaps are rare at sea. And if a problem does arise, “in-house” medical care is available. Children on cruises are now so common that some childless adults clamor for adults-only voyages.
Tips for smooth sailing:
1. Call your child’s health care providers when non-emergency problems occur. Often they can advise on how you can handle the problem or whether you need to visit the infirmary. Health issues tend to be more upsetting away from home. Bring your child’s medical record if he or she has an ongoing health issue.
2. Carry a small personalized medical kit. It reduces the chances of leaving items you’ll need at home. Check which medications your child has taken in recent years; those are the ones you are most likely to need. Many common over-the-counter medications and some Rx items are available on large ships but may be expensive, not covered by insurance and not identical to ones you are accustomed to.
3. Does your health insurance cover shipboard medical expenses? If not, buy travelers’ assistance insurance. Such insurance includes evacuation to a medical facility on land – a rare occurrence, but one that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Policies are available through major credit card companies. Policies have exclusions: pre-travel conditions and hazardous activities (parasailing and diving, for example, sports popular at some ports).
4. Update your children’s immunizations. Aboard ship are passengers and crew from many countries, the crew often from poor countries with lax immunization programs. Influenza vaccination is recommended for children six months and older (and adults). Shore excursions in foreign countries, even short ones, may require vaccines and preventative medications.
5. Shipboard medical care is expensive. The medical staff is trained in emergency medicine. Consultations generally cost over $100. Injections, x-rays, lab work, after-hour visits and “house” calls to cabins are extra. Fees may be waived for minor ship-related injuries. Most ships are equipped to electronically transmit x-rays, ECGs, digital pictures and other data to specialists on shore for immediate interpretation. If a family member has an ongoing medical problem or mobility issue, consult the cruise line’s medical department several weeks before sailing. In most cases, they will be able to accommodate you.
6. Sunburns are common. Children burn easily. In the tropics, the sun is directly above, daylight is long, there is almost no haze to filter out rays, and rays reflect off water, increasing exposure. In temperate climates, don’t let cool weather and breezes lull you into complacency; neither reduces radiation. Taking ibuprofen immediately after excessive exposure and before burn symptoms occur may alleviate discomfort, but doesn’t reduce long-term skin damage. Use sunscreen of SPF 15 or above. Reapply frequently.
7. Seasickness is uncommon. Weather data enables captains to change course to avoid most storms. Ships are equipped with stabilizers. If children feel “queasy,” stay on deck and tell them to keep their eyes on the horizon. Or keep them in air-conditioned areas, reclining and with their eyes closed and heads still. Avoid large meals and food odors. Sip fruit juices. Transderm-Scop, a patch placed behind the ear, is effective, but not approved for children. It requires a prescription and has side effects. Oral medications and injections are available aboard. See http://kidstraveldoc.com/?s=motion+sickness.
8. Most shipboard accidents are preventable. Leading causes are embarking and disembarking and the rolling of the ship. Inform children about risks related to steep stairs, wet decks, doorsills, and tripping over items in the cabin. Leave a small light on to reduce the possibility of falls. Baby-proof cabins for toddlers. In many ports, launches are necessary to reach shore. Getting on and off launches, particularly in heavy seas or while holding young children, is dangerous. Allow crew to assist you.
9. Many cruise-associated mishaps and illnesses occur on shore. Riding motorbikes and parasailing are hazardous activities; in many ports there are no age restrictions. Tropical beaches have undertows and hazardous sea life. Lifeguards are rare. Apply insect repellents for shore excursions in tropical ports. In developing countries, watch for broken sidewalks, exposed roots and unexpected steps. Eat food that is cooked and served hot, drink beverages from sealed containers, avoid ice, and eat fresh fruit only if you have washed it with clean water and peeled it yourself.
10. Familiarize yourself with child safety procedures. Most ten-year-olds can be left alone to find their way around the ship (usually better than their parents). They can sign themselves in and out of professionally supervised programs. Parents can track their children via electronic devices. Confined activities are available for younger children. Cameras manned by security personnel cover most public areas. On many ships children under 12 must wear wristbands when alone that list muster stations in case of emergencies. Crew can read the bands and guide children accordingly.
Miscellaneous: Generally, infants must be six months old. Gluten free, dairy free and other special diets are available on most large ships. Inquire beforehand.
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The next posting: preventing gastrointestinal disease on cruises at sea, a subject that is frequently in the news.