Parents can take children to almost any place in the world if they prepare themselves to deal with the occasional health and safety issues that children may encounter while traveling, says Perri Klass MD in her recent New York Times column, 18 and Under (November 19, 2013.) Click here to read the entire article.
I was one of the experts interviewed for and quoted in the article. Here is my review of the article with some additional thoughts. After each paragraph are leads to my website kidstraveldoc for in-depth coverage of the subject mentioned.
Car accidents are probably the greatest threat to traveling children, just as they are a leading cause of injury and death at home, says Dr. Klass. Roads in the developing world often are in poor condition: cars don’t always have seatbelts; signs may be in unfamiliar languages; and the rules of the road may be a little (or a lot) different – and often ignored and rarely enforced. The automobile-related fatality rate in Nigeria, the country with the worst record, is more than 80 times that of Norway, with the best record. Tip: Avoid driving when you are jetlagged. (driving overseas).
Another concern for parents in developing countries are animals, especially in countries where rabies is still a problem. Kids like animals, and animals seem to like kids. “I talk to kids about how animals in many countries are not pets the way they are here,” said Dr. Elizabeth D. Barnett, professor of pediatrics and director of the International Clinic at Boston Medical Center. Tip: Never eat when monkeys are present. While they are rarely aggressive, they jump for the food people are eating and may scratch or bite in the process. (children/animal related illnesses).
Parents who take their children to developing countries should consult a travel medicine specialist well before the trip, says Dr. Stefan Hagmann, a pediatrician and director of the Bronx Center for Travel and International Health at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital. Children. The children (and the parents), depending on their destination, may need medications to prevent malaria and altitude illness, for example, and immunizations against a host of travel-related diseases. And make sure that their regular vaccinations are up-to-date. Measles, meningitis, polio and hepatitis A, for example are more prevalent in the developing world. Make appointments weeks before the trip; some immunizations require several doses.
Still, “kids who get sick overseas tend to get sick with illnesses they would have gotten at home, ear infections rather than malaria or tsutsugamushi fever,” said Dr. Karl Neumann (your author), a New York City pediatrician who maintains a website and electronic newsletter about traveling with children. He suggests a “modern medical kit” that might include a filled prescription for antibiotics for a child prone to ear infections, and contact information for home doctors. Tip: Carry a cell phone operable at your destination and the numbers of all of your kids’ doctors. Call them first if a health issue arises.(medical kits), (vaccinations).
A simple way to reduce the risk of intestinal illnesses include consuming food that comes to the table too hot to eat immediately (soups, for example), drinking beverages from sealed containers, and, especially for children, frequent hand washing. When food is very hot it means that it was prepared at a high temperature and did not stand around to be contaminated by insects or someone’s hands. More cases of travelers’ intestinal upsets stem from food rather than water. Children are more susceptible to such conditions than adults. Tip: Be first in line at outdoor buffet in the tropics, before the sun and the insects go to work on the food. (food precautions), (water precautions), (treating diarrhea).
Also important to keep kids healthy and safe when traveling: knowing how to use insect repellents, not allowing kids to go barefoot, baby proofing hotel rooms, supervising baths and showers where plumbing is unfamiliar, being extra careful at waterfronts (“waterfronts” are second to motor vehicles as a source of accidents), and taking sun precautions. Dr. Neumann points out that children on cruise ships are especially at risk for sunburn: “It’s often in the winter; kids have lost their tan from the previous summer and are quite prone to sunburn.” Tip: Forgo hot beverages during air travel when a young child sits next to you. Children move unexpectedly, spilling the drink and getting burned. (insects), (cruises), (sunburns), (air travel).
Finally, should any medical issues arise, remind doctors, even months after your return, that you were traveling.