Traveling overseas with children can be as rewarding as it can be difficult. Just the logistics of bringing a child somewhere that isn’t home can be a challenge. Many parents get swept up in figuring out travel logistics and forget that traveling poses certain health risks to young children. Health risks affect both adults in children, however, they can be more severe for younger children with immature immune systems. In addition, very young children may not yet have the speech to describe their symptoms or alert you that something is wrong.
Many families choose to vaccinate their children against certain diseases before they travel abroad. Recommended vaccines include routine scheduled vaccinations as well as common pediatric travel vaccinations.
For a recommended routine immunization schedule, head over to the CDC’s website.
If you have very young children (under age 2) or choose not to vaccinate your children, we recommend that you avoid travel to any country with even minor disease outbreaks. Some of these diseases can be devastating to our little humans and it is not worth the risk.
Common Pediatric Travel Vaccinations
- Yellow Fever
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Meningococcal meningitis
- Typhoid fever
- JE (Japanese B encephalitis)
- Tickborne encephalitis (TBE)
In addition to routine childhood vaccinations, there are vaccines recommended for kids traveling abroad. Each country has different disease risks, so it’s important that you do a little research before you plan your trip. Keep in mind that many of these vaccines are not recommended for younger children. Vaccines usually take about 4 to 6 weeks to take effect, so it’s important to make an appointment well before you leave on your trip.
For example, if you were traveling to Bangladesh, you would want to make sure you were up-to-date on your routine vaccines (MMR, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella, polio, flu). You would also want to get the hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines. The Hepatitis A vaccine should not be given to children under 1 year of age. And the typhoid vaccine shouldn’t be given to children under two years of age. In fact, if you had children under the age of two, you might choose to hold off on your Bangladesh trip until your child was the right age to get the vaccine.
Common Traveling Illnesses
Diarrhea can be dangerous for infants and young children due to dehydration. This is a very common illness in traveling children. Eat food that is cooked and served hot to avoid diarrhea. Peel and wash fruits and vegetables. Drink liquids that are in sealed containers. Treat or boil water before drinking. Prevent diarrhea in your infant by breastfeeding. Practice good hygiene by washing hands frequently. If your child does contract diarrhea while traveling, be sure to provide plenty of fluids or rehydration salts. Seek immediate medical attention if your child is severely dehydrated, is limp or nonresponsive, or has bloody stool.
Insect-spread Diseases (Malaria, Dengue, Leishmaniasis, Trypanosomiasis)
Medications are available for many insect-spread diseases. However, they are not always 100% effective. Avoid insect bites by wearing bug spray or long pants and sleeves. Sleep in an air-conditioned room with screens or bed nets.
Children are more likely to be bitten by animals due to their curious nature. It’s important to stay away from strange animals. It is also important that children feel that they can report a bite to an adult. Some children may hide a bite for fear of getting in trouble with a parent or guardian. Wash all bites thoroughly with soap and water and have them evaluated by a medical professional.
Measles is a virus spread through infectious droplets. Most measles cases in the US are a result of international travel.
Check out the CDC’s travel website for information on the country you are traveling to. They have a great menu where you can specify that you’ll be ‘Traveling with Children.’ You can also specify your results with information for ‘Immune-Compromised Travelers’, ‘Pregnant Women’, Chronic Disease’, ‘Cruise Ship’, etc.
The CDC also includes health warnings to certain countries, based on recent outbreaks. For example, on May 15, 2018, the CDC posted a level 3 warning to travelers heading to Venezuela. This means that the CDC recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to Venezuela. Over the past couple of years, Venezuela has experienced outbreaks of infectious diseases including measles, diphtheria, and malaria. In addition, adequate health care is not available to most of the country.
Before you travel abroad, it’s a good idea to communicate with your pediatric health care provider. We can help you figure out what needs to be done before you head off on your grand adventure. Make sure you make an appointment to see your provider at least 6 weeks before you travel, as many of these vaccines require time to function properly.
Teach your kids more about infectious diseases by downloading the CDC’s free graphic novel – The Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak!
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