Travelling with a child presents unique challenges to every parent. You can make your next trip a more positive and enjoyable experience for the entire family if you adopt certain precautionary measures before and when you travel.
The Children's Travel Clinic offers you some tips on travel health especially when travelling with your child.
Pre - Travel Advice
- Make an appointment with a doctor about 4 - 6 weeks before your departure to determine if vaccination is required for your destination. The doctor would also be able to determine your child's fitness level for travel.
- Vaccinations can help prevent the following diseases:
►Meningococcal Infection (caused by bacteria: Neisseria meningitidis)
►Hepatitis A and B
►Japanese B Encephalitis
►H. influenzae Type B
►Pneumococcal Infection (caused by bacteria: Streptococcus pneumoniae)
►Pertussis (whooping cough)
►Varicella (chicken pox)
- Obtain a letter from the doctor if your child has a medical condition and/or requires you to bring along medications when abroad.
- Pack a travel kit, which contains some first aid items such as antiseptics, dressing/bandages, sunscreen lotion, insect repellent, thermometer, fever medicine, oral re-hydration salts (for diarrhoea). Purchase medical/travel insurance.
Motion sickness is a general term that includes car/sea/air sickness. It is a normal reaction to certain types of motion when you are travelling. Symptoms of motion sickness include nausea, vomiting, giddiness, turning pale and cold sweats.
Children are the most prone to motion sickness, which occurs more often on cars and buses than on planes/trains/ships.
Motion sickness tends to occur more commonly in children above 2 years old but improves when the child reaches 10 years old.
To avoid motion sickness:
- Avoid full meals up to two hours before travelling.
- If possible, do not offer food to your child while in transit. If you must, choose easily digestible foods such as bread, juices or canned fruit.
- Discourage reading and colouring during the travel. Looking out of the window, engaging in travel games, playing with action figures or dolls are better diversions.
- Face forward when travelling and look up to the horizon. Sit on the front seat of the vehicle. For the child's safety, infants in rear-facing infant seats should not sit in the front passenger seat if the car has air-bags.
- If your child is prone to severe motion sickness, approach your doctor who may prescribe medication to prevent such symptoms.
Jet lag is the feeling of being maladjusted in your biological clock with the new time zone. It comes from travelling by plane across time zones. Symptoms of jet lag include daytime fatigue, disturbed sleep patterns and gastrointestinal problems.
Travelling westward causes less jet lag than travelling eastward. Jet lag is usually less of a problem in children because they tend to adjust their nap and bedtime schedules more readily.
To reduce jet lag:
- Rest well before long haul flight.
- Try to sleep on the plane especially if you are eastbound.
- Upon arrival at your travel destination, try to sleep at the night time of your new time zone and avoid day-time napping.
- Do not plan a hectic schedule or a long drive on the first day of your arrival at your travel destination.
Tips for staying healthy when abroad
When you have arrived at your destination, it is advisable to adopt safe measures so as to prevent diseases such as traveller's diarrhoea and malaria. Some of these measures include:
1. Food and Water Hygiene: General rule: Cook it, boil it, peel it or leave it
- Drink water that has been boiled or bottled.
- Avoid consuming ice, ice-creams and tap water.
- Canned or bottled beverages can be consumed. The mouth of the can/bottle should be wiped and dried before drinking.
- Eat food that has been thoroughly cooked and consume when it is hot.
- Avoid salads, mayonnaise, uncooked vegetables, undercooked meat and shellfish, unpasteurised milk and milk products.
- For infants below six months old, sterilise milk bottles either by boiling them or using sterilisation tablets.
- Wash hands before and after meals, when preparing milk for infant and after going to the toilet.
- Avoid street vendor food.
- Train your children to wash their hands after going to the toilet and before eating.
2. Mosquito Protection
- Consult your doctor regarding medication for malaria prevention.
- Wear long-sleeves and long pants where possible and apply repellents to clothing.
- Apply repellent sparingly only to exposed skin or clothing.
- Purchase repellents containing 7 - 20% DEET for children and 20 - 35% for adults.
- Do not allow children to handle the repellent and avoid applying repellents to parts of children's hands which are likely to come into contact with their eyes or mouth.
- Wash repellent-treated skin with soap and water after coming indoors.
- Sleep in air-conditioned rooms/rooms under mosquito nets or with fine wire netting fitted onto windows. Use mosquito coils or insect repellents heated by electrical devices when indoors.
- Swim only in chlorinated pools.
- Avoid swimming/wading in freshwater streams, canals, lakes and beaches which might be contaminated with human sewage or dog faeces.
- Avoid jellyfish, biting/stinging fish and corals.
- Never swim alone nor dive head first into an unfamiliar body of water.
- Always supervise your child when he is swimming or playing in water.
4. Sun Protection
- Use sun screen with SPF (Sun Protective Factor) of more than 15, reapply after a swim or heavy exercise.
- NEVER place babies in direct sunlight
- Avoid midday sun.
5. Animal Bites: Rabies is a serious viral infection which affects the brain and nervous system for which there is no cure. It is transmitted through animal bites/lick or scratches of dogs, cats, squirrels, foxes, raccoons, skunks, monkeys, wolves and bats. Pre-travel rabies prevention may be done through a series of 3 anti-rabies vaccinations.
- Do not approach strange and wild animals.
- If bitten by animals, wash the injured area with soap and running water, apply antiseptic to the wound and go to the nearest health ntre for disinfection and anti-rabies vaccinations.
- Avoid petting stray cats or dogs as once bitten, other bacterial infections can also be transmitted and antibiotics would be required.
- If bitten by a snake, apply a pressure bandage and ice (if available), immobilise the affected limb and send the victim to a health centre as soon as possible.
Should your child feel unwell after returning from travel or experience symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, yellow eyes, make an appointment with KKH's Children's Travel Clinic (tel:+65 6294 4050) for further evaluation and treatment.
You may also need to return to complete the series of vaccinations given prior to travelling. If you are taking anti-malarial medication, you should complete the course which usually lasts until 4 weeks after return from travel.
This featured article is contributed by Department of Infectious Diseases, KK Women's and Children's Hospital. To read more please visit www.kkh.com.sg/HealthPedia.