When it comes to traveling with young children, parents often sweat the small details – shoving spare diapers into every piece of luggage or enough toys to make Santa look like an amateur. But if you want to travel with tots like a pro, stay up-to-date on vaccines.
People think that traveling to exotic locales means exposure to exotic diseases. While true, international travelers are far more likely to contract illnesses preventable by routine immunizations. Influenza is the number one vaccine-preventable-illness that ruins vacations, with hepatitis A coming in second. Both of these infections are preventable with vaccines that can be given to children as young as 6 months old.
The CDC travel website offers health advisories and recommended vaccines. For example, certain countries currently have mosquito-borne illness advisories, warning of the risk of devastating infections like Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever. Both are preventable through vaccines, and prescription medication is available to help prevent malaria. Educating yourself about your risks can mean the difference between discovering foreign hospitality and navigating foreign hospitals.
Measles is an important case in point. According to the CDC, measles cases in the U.S. in 2019 already have risen by 260 percent over 2018 [981 v. 372, as of June 7, 2019], with the bulk of the of the increase due to unvaccinated Americans importing infection form countries like Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines, where large outbreaks are ongoing. Nestled in our cocoon, we forget just how common and dangerous this preventable infection is: Worldwide measles strikes an estimated 10 million people every year, and kills more than 100,000, mostly young children.
Remember that while your child’s vaccination records are current, yours might not be. The immunizations we received as children, such as those that protect against polio, meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and measles, often require a booster or two as an adult, especially if your vacation takes you to a place where you will be at increased risk.
Beyond vaccinating against the preventable, it helps to prepare for bad luck. “Traveler’s diarrhea,” for example, is the most common infection among international travelers. When it comes to eating the local food, COOK IT, PEEL IT, BOIL IT OR FORGET IT. And, if you have underlying GI problems, I usually recommend a “just in case” prescription for antibiotics to help get you past your stomach issues and back to your vacation. I also advise packing Advil, Tylenol, insect repellant, hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines.
Before you take off for your exotic locale, educate your children about the risk of rabies. Rabies is something we almost never think about, but in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, rabies is rampant, and local access to appropriate post-bite care may be nonexistent. Tens of thousands of people die of the disease each year, so please caution junior not to pet any dogs.
Outside of the U.S., more than 99% of all human rabies deaths are the result of bites from rabid dogs.
As any parent knows, you can’t plan for everything. If you get sick in a foreign country, access to medical care will vary. It’s best to contact your insurance company before you leave for advice about what to do if someone gets seriously ill or injured. Do not skimp on insurance to cover emergency medical evacuation.
All that said, safe, happy and sane travel with kids is possible. It just takes a little planning, a lot of education and proper vaccinations. Bon voyage!
Dr. Stan Wasbin provides travel medicine services in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.