If your family is planning to head to Mexico, Europe or beyond this summer, not only will your kids will be among the approximately 1.9 million children from the U.S. traveling abroad this year. They'll also be among those exposed to new infections and health risks.
Before you go, do a little planning to keep everyone healthy during your journey. Dr. Nava Yeganeh, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases and director of the Pediatric International Travel and Adoption Clinic at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, explains three important strategies.
1. Avoid infectious diarrhea.
Diarrhea is the most common ailment when traveling abroad. You can help prevent diarrhea by:
• Eating only foods that have been cooked, boiled or peeled.
• Making sure your child washes his/her hands before eating. NOTE: If your child does develop diarrhea, the most important treatment is to keep him/her hydrated. You can do this by administering oral rehydration salts (purchased at any pharmacy) mixed with either boiled or bottled water or by giving a prepacked rehydration drink suitable for children (such as Pedialyte).
• Seek medical attention if your child has blood in the stool, has a fever of 101.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, is vomiting so often that he/she cannot tolerate drinking, or seems dehydrated.
2. Be up-to-date on vaccinations.
Many foreign countries recommend, or require, certain vaccinations to prevent local illnesses such as yellow fever or Japanese encephalitis.
• Visit a health travel specialist 4 to 6 weeks before your trip for guidance on what vaccinations are needed for your travel itinerary.
• Remember, some vaccinations don’t offer full immunity until a few weeks after they’re administered. Don’t wait until the last minute to be immunized.
• Make sure your child’s regular vaccinations – including those for measles, polio and hepatitis -- are up to date.
3. Avoid mosquito-borne illnesses.
Zika, dengue, chikungunya and malaria are just some of the diseases transmitted by mosquitos. Protect against mosquito bites by following these tips:
• Cover skin with long pants, long sleeves and socks.
• Use insect repellent with DEET. Wash off the repellent before going to bed.
• At night, use a bed net treated with insecticide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more health guidelines on traveling abroad with kids in specific countries.
“Traveling abroad with children can be a memorable adventure for the whole family,” Yeganeh says. “These strategies can help everyone enjoy the vacation and return home healthy.”
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