Traveling with Children

An estimated 2.4 million children from the United States travel internationally each year, and the number is increasing. In general, children face most of the same health risks as their parents, but the consequences can be more serious. Some conditions can be difficult to recognize in children, especially in those who aren’t talking yet. If you are planning to travel to another country with your kids, be familiar with the risks of travel to help them stay safe and healthy.

Pretravel Care

A visit to a travel medicine provider before your trip can help protect you and your children at your destination. Ideally, your family should see a health care provider at least 4-6 weeks before your international trip to get needed vaccines and medicines. Your doctor or nurse will also counsel you on other ways to reduce your family’s risk of illness or injury during travel.

Vaccines

If possible, children should complete their routine childhood vaccines on the normal schedule before traveling overseas. However, some vaccines can also be given on an “accelerated” schedule, meaning doses are given in a shorter period of time. Some travel vaccines cannot be given to very young children, so it’s important to check with a travel medicine doctor, who should consult your child’s pediatrician, as early as possible before travel.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is among the most common illnesses experienced by children who are traveling abroad.

Prevention

For infants, breastfeeding is the best way to prevent diarrhea. Older children visiting developing countries should follow basic food and water precautions:

Eat only food that is cooked and served hot.
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables that you peeled or washed yourself in clean water.
Drink only beverages from sealed containers or water that has been boiled or treated. This includes water used to prepare infant formula.
Wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently.
For short trips, you may want to bring a supply of safe snacks from home for times when the children are hungry and the available food may not be appealing or safe.

Treatment

Diarrhea can be serious in infants and small children because of the risk of dehydration. The best treatment for diarrhea in children is to give plenty of fluids; there is usually no need to give medicine. Keep in mind:

Oral rehydration salts (available online or in stores in most developing countries) may be used to prevent dehydration.
Over-the-counter drugs that contain bismuth (Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate) should NOT be used in children, and antibiotics are usually reserved for serious cases.
Other common treatments for diarrhea, such as loperamide, are not recommended for children younger than 6 years old.
If your child appears to be severely dehydrated, or has a fever or bloody stools, get medical attention immediately.