Traveling with Kids

Many families travel when school’s out of session, which over the winter holiday season means traveling when illness is abound. I get a lot of questions this time of year about how to safely travel with kids.

Sleep disturbances

Sleep deprivation can make everyone miserable, especially kids (and their parents). Make sure your kids are well rested prior to travel and try to keep them on a healthy sleep schedule during your trip.
  • Bring favorite comfort items, such as a stuffed animal or blankie, to help kids relax for sleep. If possible, travel with your own pillows.
  • If you’re staying at a hotel, ask for a quiet room, such as one away from the pool and the elevator.
  • Be sure to verify that there will be safe sleeping areas for every child, especially infants, before you travel.
  • Try to keep kids on their regular sleep schedule. It’s tempting to stay up late to enjoy the most of the vacation, but in reality that will only serve to make little monsters of your children if they’re sleep deprived.
  • If your kids nap well in the car, plan on doing long stretches on the road during nap time. If kids don’t sleep well in the car, be sure to plan to be at your hotel (or wherever you’re staying) at sleep times so they can stay in their usual routine.
  • Some families leave on long trips at the child’s bedtime to let them sleep through the drive. Just be sure the driver is well rested to make it a safe trip!
  • If you’re changing time zones significantly, plan ahead. Jet lag can be worse when traveling east than when going west. Jet lag is more than just being tired from a change in sleep routine, it also involves changes to the eating schedule. Kids will often wake when they’re used to eating because the body is hungry at that time. Try to feed everyone right before they go to sleep to try to prevent this. Breastfed infants might have a harder time adjusting because mother’s milk production is also off schedule.
  • Tired, sick, and hungry all make for bad moods, so try to stay on track on all accounts. Sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, so try to get everyone up and outside in the morning to help reset their inner clocks. Keep everyone active during the day so they are tired at the new night-time.

Keeping track of littles

  • Toddlers and young kids love to run and roam. Be sure that they are always within sight. Use strollers if they’ll stay in them.
  • Consider toddler leashes. I know they seem awful at first thought, but they work and kids often love them! I never needed one for my first – he was attached to parents at the hip and never wandered. My second was fast. And fearless. She would run between people in crowds and it was impossible to keep up with her without pushing people out of the way. She hated holding hands. She always figured out ways to climb out of strollers – and once had a nasty bruise on her forehead when she fell face down climbing out as I pushed the stroller. She loved the leash. It had a cute monkey backpack. She loved the freedom of being able to wander around and I loved that she couldn’t get too far.
  • Parents have a number of ways to put phone numbers on their kids in case they get separated. Some simply put in on a piece of paper and trust that it will stay in a pocket until it’s needed. Others write it in sharpie inside a piece of clothing or even on a child’s arm. You can have jewelry engraved with name and phone number, much like a medical alert bracelet. Just look at Etsy or Pinterest and you’ll come up with ideas!
  • It’s a great idea to take pictures of everyone each morning in case someone gets separated from the group. Not only will you have a current picture for authorities to see what they look like, but you will also know what they were wearing at the time they were lost.

Airplane issues

  • The great news is that air travel is much safer from an infection standpoint than it used to be. Newer airplanes have HEPA filters that make a complete air change approximately 15 to 30 times per hour, or once every 2-4 minutes. The filters are said to remove 99.9% of bacteria, fungi and larger viruses. These germs can live on surfaces though, so I still recommend using common sense and bringing along a small hand sanitizer bottle and disinfectant wipes to use as needed. Wipe down arm rests, tray tables, seat pockets, windows, and other surfaces your kids will touch. After they touch unclean items sanitize their hands. Interestingly, sitting in an aisle seat is considered more dangerous, since people touch those seats during boarding and when going to the restroom, so if you’re seated in the aisle pay attention to when surfaces need to be re-sanitized. Sitting next to a sick person increases your risk, so if there is an option to move if the person seated next to you is ill appearing, ask to be moved.
  • Most adults who have flown have experienced ear pain due to pressure changes when flying. Anyone with a cold, ear infection or congestion from allergies is more at risk of ear pain, so pre-medicating with a pain reliever (such as acetaminophen) might help. If you have allergies be sure to get control of them before air travel. The best allergy treatment is usually a nasal corticosteroid.
  • It has often been recommended to offer infants something to suck on (bottle, breast or a pacifier) during take off and landing to help with ear pressure. Start early in the landing – the higher you are, the more the pressure will change. Older toddlers and kids can be offered a drink since swallowing can help. Ask them to hold their nose closed and try to blow air out through the closed nostrils followed by a big yawn. If your kids can safely chew gum (usually only recommended for those over 4 years of age) you can allow them to chew during take off and landing.
  • Airplane cabin noise levels can range anywhere from 60 – 100 dB and tend to be louder during takeoff. (I’ve written about Hearing Loss from noise previously to help you understand what that means.) Use cotton balls or small earplugs to help decrease the exposure, especially if your kids are sensitive to loud noises.
  • The Car Seat Lady has a great page on knowing your rights when flying with kids.

Cruise ship issues

  • Learn about cruise-specific opportunities for kids of various ages. Many will offer age-specific child care, “clubs” or areas to allow safe opportunities for everyone to hang out with people of their own age group. Cruises offer the opportunity for adventurous kids to be independent and separate from parents at times, allowing each to have a separate-yet-together vacation. Travel with another family with kids the same ages as yours so your child knows a friendly face, especially if siblings are in a different age group for the cruises “clubs”.
  • Talk to kids about safety issues on the ship and make sure they follow your rules. They should always stay where they are supposed to be and not wander around. There’s safety in numbers, so have them use a buddy system and stick with their buddy. Find out how you can get a hold of them and they can get a hold of you during the cruise.
  • Of course sunscreen is a must. Reapply often!
  • Be sure kids are properly supervised near water. That means an adult who is responsible for watching the kids should not be under the influence of alcohol, shouldn’t read a book, or have other distractions.

Car seats (for planes, trains and automobiles)

  • I know it’s tempting to save money and not get a seat for your child under 2 years of age on a plane, but it is recommended that all children are seated in a proper child safety restraint system (CRS). It must be approved for flight, but then you can then use the seat for land travel.
  • I always recommend age and size appropriate car seats or boosters when traveling, even if you’re in a country that does not require them. Allowing kids to ride without a proper seat will probably lead to problems getting them back in their safe seat when they get back home. Besides, we use car seats and booster seats to protect our kids, not just to satisfy the law.
  • So… my section header was meant to be cute. Trains don’t have seatbelts, so car seats won’t work. But they are a safe way to travel. Car Seat for the Littles has a great explanation on Travel by Train.

Motion sickness

When should pregnant women and new babies avoid travel by air?

  • A surprising number of families either must travel (due to a job transfer, death in the family, out of state adoption, or other important occasion) or choose to travel during pregnancy or with young infants.
  • Newborns need constant attention, which can be difficult if the seatbelt sign is on and needed items are in the overhead bin. New parents are already sleep deprived and sleeping on planes isn’t easy. New moms might still have swollen feet and need to keep their feet up, which is difficult in flight. Newborns are at high risk of infection and the close contact with other travelers can be a concern. And traveling is hard on everyone. But the good news is that overall young infants tend to travel well.
  • It is advisable to not travel after 36 weeks of pregnancy because of concerns of preterm labor. Pregnant women should talk with their OB about travel plans.
  • Some airlines allow term babies as young as 48 hours of age to fly, but others require infants to be two weeks – so check with your airline if you’ll be traveling in the first days of your newborn’s life. There is no standard guideline, but my preference would be to wait until term babies are over 2 weeks of age due to heart circulation changes that occur the first two weeks. Waiting until after 6 weeks allows for newborns to get the first set of vaccines (other than the Hepatitis B vaccine) prior to flight would be even better. Infants ideally have their own seat so they can be placed in a car seat that is FAA approved.
  • Babies born before 36 weeks and those with special health issues should get clearance from their physicians before traveling.
  • Overall traveling with an infant is not as difficult as many parents fear. Toddlers are another story… they don’t like to sit still for any amount of time and flights make that difficult. They also touch everything and put fingers in their mouth, so they are more likely to get exposed to germs.

Illness prevention

Who wants to be sick on vacation? No one. It’s easy to get exposed anywhere during the cold and flu season, so protect yourself and your family.
  • Teach kids (and remind yourself) to not touch faces – your own or others. Our eyes, nose, and mouth are the portals of entry and exit for germs.
  • Wash hands before and after eating, after blowing your nose, before and after touching eyes/nose/mouth, before and after putting in contacts, after toileting or changing a diaper, and when they’re obviously soiled.
  • Cover sneezes and coughs with your elbow unless you’re cradling an infant in your arms. Infants have their head and face in your elbow, so you should use your hands to cover, then wash your hands well.

 

Make sure all family members are up to date on vaccines.

 

Keep records

Take pictures of your passport, vaccine record, medicines, insurance cards, and other important items to use if the originals are lost. Store the images so you have access to them from any computer in addition to your phone in case your phone is lost.

Have everyone, including young children, carry a form of identification that includes emergency contact information.

Create a medical history form that includes the following information for every member of your family that is travelling. Save a copy so you can easily find it on any computer in case of emergency.

  • your name, address, and phone number
  • emergency contact name(s) and phone number(s)
  • immunization record
  • your doctor’s name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
  • the name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including your policy number
  • a list of any known health problems or recent illnesses
  • a list of current medications and supplements you are taking and pharmacy name and phone number
  • a list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
  • a prescription for glasses or contact lenses

Enjoy!

Last, but not least: Enjoy your vacation!
Be flexible.

Don’t overschedule. Your kids will remember the experience, so make moments count – don’t worry if you don’t accomplish all there is to do!

Take a look at some of the Holiday Health Hazards that come up at vacation times from Dr Christina at PMPediatrics so you can prevent accidents along the way.

Take pictures, but don’t make the vacation about the pictures. Try to stay off your phone and enjoy the moments!

Traveling Around the World

Spring Break is around the corner, which means many of my patients will be traveling to various areas of the world for vacation or mission trips. Many of these areas require vaccines prior to travel, so plan ahead and schedule a travel appointment with your doctor (if they do them) or at a travel clinic. Many insurance companies do not cover the cost of travel medicine visits, medications, or vaccines, but they are important and are a small cost in comparison to getting sick when on your trip.

Vaccinate when you can!

Immunization records will need to be reviewed, so if you are going to a travel clinic outside your medical home (doctor’s office) be sure to bring the records with you. Vaccines work best when they are given in advance, so do not schedule the pre-travel visit the week you leave! Some vaccines that are recommended are easily available at your medical office but others are not commonly given so might require a trip to a local health department, large medical center, or travel clinic. Check with your insurance company to see if the cost of the vaccine will be covered or not so you can include your cost in your travel budget if needed.

Watch the food and drinks

Many diseases are spread through eating and drinking contaminated foods. If in doubt: do not eat! Cooked foods are generally safer. Any fresh fruits or vegetables should be washed in clean water before eating. Be sure all dairy products are pasteurized. Avoid street vendors, undercooked foods (especially eggs, meats, and fish), salads and salsas made from fresh ingredients, unpeeled fruits, and wild game. Drink bottled water or water that has been boiled, filtered or treated in a way that is known to be reliable. Use the same water to brush teeth. Do not use ice unless you know it is from safe water because freezing does not kill the germs that cause illness. As always, wash hands often, use sanitizer as needed when washing is not available, and avoid touching the “T” zone of your face (eyes, nose, and mouth). Do not share utensils or foods. Avoid people who are obviously ill.

Medicines for travelers Diarrhea

  • Many companies that schedule international travel recommend bringing antibiotics for prevention or treatment of diarrhea.
  • This is not recommended by many experts due to the rise of “superbugs” with the use of unnecessary antibiotics.
  • In general, the use of antibiotic prophylaxis is recommended only for high-risk travelers, and then only for short periods.
  • The average duration of illness when untreated will be 4 to 5 days, with the worst of the symptoms usually lasting less than a day.
  • Antibiotics might lead to yeast infections, allergic reactions, or even a chronic carrier state (colonization) or irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Antibiotics should be reserved for the treatment of more serious illnesses that include fever and significant associated symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, bloody stools, cramping, and vomiting.
  • Bismuth subsalicylate is available over the counter for adults and can reduce traveler’s diarrhea rates by approximately 65% if taken four times daily. Risks of bismuth products are that it can turn the tongue and stool black and they contain salicylate. Salicylate carries a theoretical risk of Reye syndrome in children, so should be avoided in children.
  • Probiotics and prebiotics have been shown to help prevent and treat diarrheal illnesses safely in most people with intact immune systems.

 

Mosquitos…

Many diseases are spread by mosquitos. Contact with mosquitoes can be reduced by using mosquito netting and screens (preferably insecticide-treated nets), using an effective insecticide spray in living and sleeping areas during evening and nighttime hours, and wearing clothes that cover most of the body. Everyone at risk for mosquito bites should apply mosquito repellant. See below for prevention medication options.

Non-Infectious Risks

Vehicle safety risks vary around the world. Know local travel options and risks. Only use authorized forms of public transportation. For general information, see this International Road Safety page.
  • Learn local laws prior to travelling.
  • Be sure to talk with your teens about drug and alcohol safety prior to travel. Many countries have laws that vary significantly from the United States, and some teens will be tempted to take advantage of the legal nature of a drug or alcohol.
  • Remind everyone to stay in groups and to not venture out alone.
  • Dress appropriately for the area. Some clothing common in the United States is inappropriate in other parts of the world. Americans are also at risk of getting robbed, so do not wear things that will make others presume you are a good target.
  • Wear sunscreen! It doesn’t matter if you’re on the beach or on the slopes, you need to wear sunscreen every time you’re outside. Don’t ruin a vacation with a sunburn.
  • For more safety tips, see this helpful brochure.

Keep records

It is a great idea to take pictures of everyone each morning in case someone gets separated from the group. Not only will you have a current picture for authorities to see what they look like, but you will also know what they were wearing at the time they were lost.

Take pictures of your passport, vaccine record, medicines, and other important items to use if the originals are lost. Store the images so you have access to them from any computer in addition to your phone in case your phone is lost.

Have everyone, including young children, carry a form of identification that includes emergency contact information.

Create a medical history form that includes the following information for every member of your family that is travelling. Save a copy so you can easily find it on any computer in case of emergency.

  • your name, address, and phone number
  • emergency contact name(s) and phone number(s)
  • immunization record
  • your doctor’s name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
  • the name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including your policy number
  • a list of any known health problems or recent illnesses
  • a list of current medications and supplements you are taking and pharmacy name and phone number
  • a list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
  • a prescription for glasses or contact lenses

Specific Diseases to Prevent

Risks of illness vary depending on where you will be travelling and what time of year it will be. I refer to the CDC’s travel pages and the Yellow Book for information on recommendations. Some of the most common issues to address are discussed below in alphabetical order.

Dengue Fever

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral illness. It is seen in parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America, Western Pacific Islands, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Africa. There is no vaccine or specific treatment. Mosquito bite prevention measures are important.

Hepatitis

Infants should begin vaccinations against Hepatitis B starting at birth and against Hepatitis A starting at a year of age. Be sure these vaccines are up to date. Hepatitis A is spread through food and water, so be sure to follow the above precautions even if vaccinated.

Malaria

Malaria transmission occurs in large areas of Africa, Latin America, parts of the Caribbean, Asia (including South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East), Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific. Depending on the level of risk (location, time of year, availability of air conditioning, etc) no specific interventions, mosquito avoidance measures only, or mosquito avoidance measures plus prescription medication for prophylaxis might be recommended.

Prevention medications might be recommended, depending on when and where you will be travelling. The medicines must begin before travel starts, continue during the duration of the travel, and continue once you return home. There is a lot of resistance to various drugs, so area resistance patterns will need to be evaluated before choosing a medication.

  • Atovaquone-proguanil should begin 1–2 days before travel, daily during travel, and 7 days after leaving the areas. Atovaquone-proguanil is well tolerated, and side effects are rare but include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and headache. Atovaquone-proguanil is not recommended for prophylaxis in children weighing <5 kg (11 lb).
  • Mefloquine prophylaxis should begin at least 2 weeks before travel. It should be continued once a week, on the same day of the week, during travel and for 4 weeks upon return. Mefloquine has been associated with rare but serious adverse reactions (such as psychoses or seizures) at prophylactic doses but are more frequent with the higher doses used for treatment. It should be used with caution in people with psychiatric disturbances or a history of depression.
  • Primaquine should be taken 1–2 days before travel, daily during travel, and daily for 7 days after leaving the areas. The most common side effect is gastrointestinal upset if primaquine is taken on an empty stomach. This problem is minimized if primaquine is taken with food. In G6PD-deficient people, primaquine can cause hemolysis that can be fatal. Before primaquine is used, G6PD deficiency MUST be ruled out by laboratory testing.
  • Doxycycline prophylaxis should begin 1–2 days before travel to malarious areas. It should be continued once a day, at the same time each day, during travel in malarious areas and daily for 4 weeks after the traveler leaves such areas. Doxycycline can cause photosensitivity so sun protection is required.  It also is associated with an increased frequency of vaginal yeast infections. Gastrointestinal side effects (nausea or vomiting) may be minimized by taking the drug with a meal and it should be swallowed with a large amount of fluid and should not be taken before bed. Doxycycline is not used in children under 8 years. Vaccination with the oral typhoid vaccine should be delayed for 24 hours after taking a dose of doxycycline.
  • Chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate can be used for prevention of malaria only in destinations where chloroquine resistance is not present. Prophylaxis should begin 1–2 weeks before travel to malarious areas. It should be continued by taking the drug once a week during travel and for 4 weeks after a traveler leaves these areas. Side effects include gastrointestinal disturbance, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, insomnia, and itching, but generally these effects do not require that the drug be discontinued.

Measles

We routinely give the first vaccine against measles (MMR or MMRV) at 12-15 months of age, but the MMR can be given to infants at least 6 months of age if they are considered high risk due to travel or outbreaks. Under 6 months of age, an infant is considered protected from his mother’s antibodies. These antibodies leave the baby between 6 and 12 months. The antibodies prevent the vaccine from properly working, which is why we generally start the vaccine after the first birthday. Any vaccine dose given before the first birthday does not count toward the two doses required after the first birthday, but might help protect against exposure if the immunity from the mother is waning. It is safe for a child to get extra doses of the vaccine if needed for travel between 6 and 12 months.

Meningitis

  • Meningococcal disease can refer to any illness that is caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. Within this family, there are several serotypes, such as A, B, C, W, X, and Y. This bacteria causes serious illness and often death, even in the United States. In the US there is a vaccine against meningitis types A, C, W, and Y recommended at 11 and 16 years of age but can be given as young as 9 months of age. MenACWY-CRM is newly approved for children 2 months and older.
  • There is a vaccine for meningitis B prevention recommended for high risks groups in the US but is not specifically recommended for travel.
  • Meningitis vaccines should be given at least 7-10 days prior to potential exposure.
  • Travellers to the meningitis belt in Africa or the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia are considered high risk and should be vaccinated. Serogroup A predominates in the meningitis belt, although serogroups C, X, and W are also found. There is no vaccine against meningitis X, but if one gets the standard one that protects against ACWY, they will be protected against the majority of exposures. The vaccine is available for children 9 months and older in my office and a newer vaccine is approved for 2 months and up. Boosters for people travelling to these areas are recommended every 5 years.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) occurs worldwide, but travelers who go to areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and parts of Central and South America are at greatest risk. Travelers should avoid exposure to TB in crowded and enclosed environments and avoid eating or drinking unpasteurized dairy products. The vaccine against TB (bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine) is given at birth in most developing countries but has variable effectiveness and is not routinely recommended for use in the United States. Those who receive BCG vaccination must still follow all recommended TB infection control precautions and participate in post-travel testing for TB exposure. It is recommended to test for exposure in healthy appearing people after travel. It is possible to have a positive test but no symptoms. This is called latent disease. One can remain in this stage for decades without any symptoms. If TB remains untreated in the body, it may activate at any time. Typically this happens when the body’s immune system is compromised, as with old age or another illness. Appropriately treating the TB before it causes active disease is beneficial for the long term.

Typhoid

Typhoid fever is caused by a bacteria found in contaminated food and water. It is common in most parts of the world except in industrialized regions (United States, Canada, western Europe, Australia, and Japan) so travelers to the developing world should consider taking precautions. There are two vaccines to prevent typhoid.

  • Children over 2 years of age can be vaccinated with the injectable form. It must be given at least 2 weeks prior to travel and lasts 2 years.
  • The oral vaccine for children over 5 years and adults is given in 4 doses over a week’s time and should be completed at least a week prior to travel. The oral vaccine lasts 5 years.
  • Neither vaccine is 100 % effective so even immunized people must be careful what they eat and drink in areas of risk.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is another mosquito-borne infection that is found in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. There is no treatment for the illness, but there is a vaccine to help prevent infection. Some areas of the world require vaccination against yellow fever prior to admittance. Yellow fever vaccine is recommended for people over 9 months who are traveling to or living in areas with risk for YFV transmission in South America and Africa.

Zika Virus

At this time it is advised that pregnant women and women who might become pregnant avoid areas in which the zika virus is found. For up to date travel advisories due to this virus, see the CDC’s Zika page.