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Traveling with kids

by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu
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When it’s summer time, it’s vacation time. And, yes it’s travel time. Travelling to another city or another country, especially with children is something which involves care and planning, not only as regards finance and logistics but more importantly for the health of the family.

Changing the environment is likely to pose challenges and problems for health but if one anticipates them and prepares accordingly, then most of them can be easily encountered and vacation time is spent in enjoyment rather than running from clinic to clinic.

So here are some tips to help you prepare for travelling to a different place, especially a different country.

1.      Water:

Clean and pure drinking water which is free of germs is often not available So instead rely on boiling the water which is used for drinking, cooking and cleaning mouth. Carrying an immersion coil which electrically boils water is useful. Avoid using ice prepared from non-boiled water. Buying bottled, mineral water is not really advisable if quality control is lax or if there are chances of getting fake or adulterated products.

 For swimming, select chlorinated pools or unpolluted beaches which are declared safe for swimming. Avoid strong currents or unknown waterfronts.

2.     Food:

Try and eat home-cooked meals or food from clean, well known restaurants. Don’t eat from road-side food vendors. Food should be well cooked, hot and freshly prepared. Don’t eat undercooked or cold meat and fish.  Avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables as they might carry germs even if you clean them thoroughly in running water. Preferably eat fruits, nuts and vegetables with thick skins or shells that you have peeled yourself.

3.       Weather:

Pack up clothes according to the anticipated weather conditions.

For hot, sunny weathers choose light-weight, light-coloured and preferably cotton clothes. Sun-protection cream with SPF (sun protection factor) more than 15 should be applied to exposed skin. For very cold weather, dress in layers (cotton inside, woolen outside) as that makes up an insulation pad for the body. Warm clothes like sweaters, overcoats, gloves, socks and caps should be taken whenever appropriate.

4.     Insects:

Insects like mosquitoes, ticks, flees and flies are carriers of many infective organisms. To prevent insect-bites, some precautions like wearing long sleeved clothes and shoes with socks, sleeping in well-sheltered, preferably air-conditioned rooms, using protective bed-nets and insect-repellent measures (sprays, coils, mats and creams) are necessary.

Malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes, remains a major health-risk in developing countries. Taking preventive medicines like Chloroquine or Mefloquine is one way of reducing this risk. Prophylaxis should start 1 week prior to travelling to endemic area and should continue till 4 weeks after returning back (maximum for total 12 weeks). The medicine needs to be taken once weekly, same day every week. For correct dose and precautions consult your doctor.

5.      Medicines:

Medicines which are required on a regular basis in some patients like thyroid medicines, anti-asthma medicines, anti-diabetic medicines and anti-hypertension medicines should be carefully packed and it should be ensured that you are carrying adequate stock.

 It would be wise to carry some routine, over-the-counter medicines after consulting your doctor for correct dose and indication. A handy medicine-chest containing paracetamol (for fever), antihistaminic preparation (for colds, motion sickness, skin allergy and insect bites), antiseptic ointment/ cream, analgesic cream and disposable ready-made dressings (for small cuts/wounds) would be a useful addition to your baggage.

6.      Vaccinations:

Ensure that the routine vaccination (OPV, DPT, MMR, Hepatitis B and HiB) is complete as per schedule. In addition, for travelling to most developing countries it is advisable to take vaccinations against Typhoid, Hepatitis- A and Meningococcal meningitis. When travelling to Africa and South America, it is better to take a vaccine against Yellow fever.

7.     Jet-lag:

Travelling across multiple time-zones in a relatively short period upsets the body rhythm and leads to jet-lag. In such situations affected person experiences severe exhaustion, irritability, sleeplessness, headache, body-ache and sometimes even stomach upsets.

To avoid this, slowly start adjusting to the anticipated schedule two-three days in advance. During such lengthy flights make sure to drink plenty of fluids, avoid caffeine-containing beverages and colas, stretch yourself intermittently, take short walks, eat lightly and take small naps. On reaching the new destination, expose yourself to sunlight if possible and preferably keep the first day for resting.

8. Motion sickness:

The feeling of vertigo and vomiting while travelling in a moving vehicle is called motion sickness. To avoid this, take light meals during travelling. Sit slightly leaning forward in most stable portion of vehicle like midsection of bus/ plane, front section of boat or front seat of car (car-seat in the back for the child). Fix gaze at a stationery point on horizon, better still keep eyes closed or covered with dark glasses. Anti-histaminic medicines like Dimenhydrinate and Diphenhydramine are useful if taken 30-60 minutes before starting the journey. Consult your doctor about them.

9. Schedules:

Make an itinerary which gives enough time to relax and enjoy. Too tight a schedule with too many places to cover just leaves everyone exhausted and prone for illness.

If you are travelling with small babies then make an early request for comfortable seats and special meals- arrangement through your travel agency.

Keep some identity tag with every child.

10)  Recreation:

Be sure to carry some of your children’s favourite games and books and keep them handy while travelling. Hopefully that should keep them happy and busy in their sweet, little world and give you time to relax and enjoy the journey!

Happy holidays!

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