Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Be prepared to deal with illness/ accidents when traveling with kids

Welcome to the fourth blog on the travel with children series written by experts. Join us every Tuesday when a new topic and expert will be featured. This week we're discussing how to deal with illness or medical emergencies while traveling with kids and every week we'll cover topics that will enrich and enhance your travel experience. I'll be featuring experts and parents sharing their best tips and advice with you.  Please come back every week and share these posts through your Facebook, Twitter and other social media and with friends.  If you missed any so far here are the links: Picture tips, Travel with Clothand Music as travel prep.  Happy Travels!
During a recent visit to a Matador Network blog, thetravelersnotebook.com,I came across a doctor who was providing tips on how to handle medical emergencies when traveling. It occurred to me then that I had NEVER planed for a medical emergency while traveling and although I was not “adventure” traveling I was just fortunate that I hadn’t had any incidents. That said, it is one thing to risk things for oneself but another to risk them when it comes to your kids and although I have been on several trips out of the country with my daughter (who was an infant & now toddler at travel time) I don’t think I had adequately planned in case she got sick. How scary! Of course the very first bit of advice would be to consult with your pediatrician BEFORE travel to discuss location and any precautions you should take, but then what? I needed advice for me and to share.

So what did I do?  I contacted Dr. McLaughlin immediately (the doctor who had written the blog I read) and asked if he’d contribute to this blog focusing on how to prepare for medical emergencies or illnesses when traveling with kids.  Fortunately he agreed.  Not only is he an MD but he is also an“adventure traveler” and is regularly hired as the doctor who travels with expeditions or who is on site for medical purposes during other ypes of travel.  Talk about personal xperience!!! No, he is not a pediatrician but he is a traveler and can offer 1st hand advice on how to be prepared to deal with illness or emergencies when in a foreign country.  visit his site for more travel info regarding adults, vaccines,business travel, etc.  It’s a wealth of info that will keep you healthy on your travels.

Dealing with Illness or Emergencies
while Traveling with Kids

Taking your kids with you on your adventures can help you in later life.  Infecting kids with the travel bug not only allows you to share your adventures but can benefit the parents in other ways.   This is especially true when you are trying to explain to them why you spent their inheritance on your round- the-world tickets to celebrate retirement!

But laughter aside, safe travels with your kids require a bit of pre-planning and a "child specific" first aid kit. Of course, like all other things involving kids a healthy dose of patience will also get you very far. Keep in mind that children are not "little adults" and that they have very specific differences, especially when it comes to healthcare,that you have to be mindful of.  From dosages and tools to administer the correct doses to specific illnesses that, although very minor for adults, can wreak serious havoc on a child, keeping them healthy in a foreign land requires preparation.

Pre-Trip Preparation
Finding a decent English-speaking doctor at 10pm on a Saturday night, with a feverish and crying child in the background, in a foreign land can be a difficult and nerve racking experience. So the pre-trip phase is when the majority of planning should be done.  You can easily research from the comfort and ease of your home to plan for basic emergencies on the road.  A few very good websites list approved and English-speaking physicians and they should be visited prior to your trip. 

r  The International Society of Travel Medicine http://www.istm.org/ has a listing of travel medicine clinics in over 65 countries.  These clinics provide services to travelers, including vaccines and assessments of sick travelers.  They are English speaking and are a great resource to have a medical contact in the country you are traveling in.  This can be your "foot in the door" to the foreign country's medical system, should you need one.

r  The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers http://www.iamat.org/index.cfmis an organization that has been helping travelers for over 50 years with their medical problems. A very comprehensive clinic list is maintained by their organization and is available on their website.  These clinics also list languages that are spoken by their healthcare providers.

r   Medical repatriation insurance is another option to explore.  This is simply a medical insurance plan to get you back to your home country in the event of a major illness or injury occurring abroad. There are many providers that offer these services and depending on your location of travel, might be something to look into.  Travelers headed to more developed areas of the world where medical standards are similar to your home country may not
always need this service.  Travel to areas of the world in remote locations, under-developed medical services or questionable medical equipment are cause to consider getting this coverage. 

Additionally, knowing your itinerary and carrying a list of medical clinic contacts with you will help out a lot in the event that you need to seek medical care while traveling.

Preparing a "kid friendly" medical kit should also be done at home, before you depart.  Although the basics such as antibiotic ointment and bandages don’t really differ from child to adult there are specifics that do and that you need to make sure to carry with you on all trips.  This kit should include medications with child specific dosages and appropriate syringe or measure to administer the correct amount:

r    Pain and fever reducers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen

r    Allergy medications such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl),Cetirizine (Zyrtec)or Loratadine (Claritin)

r    Electrolyte replacements such as Pedialyte or Ceralyte are excellent options and can be carried in either liquid of powdered form.  This simple method of orally replacing hydration can go a long way in keeping a small problem from becoming a true emergency. 

All medication should be carried and kept in their original boxes if possible, to help with dosing or ensure that the dosing instructions are clear and easily available on the medication itself.  Children's doses are available over the counter.

Keep in mind that trauma is still the leading cause of medical problems travelers face on international adventures.  Motor vehicle accidents are very high on this list of causes.  Often times, the standard protocols for trauma patients include starting a simple IV to have access to giving medicines.  This is rarely a problem in modern countries that use good and sterile equipment to start these IVs.  However, some of the more resource poor countries reuse their medical supplies.  This means that the patient is unknowingly "sharing needles" with who knows! There are several commercially available kits that include basic IV starting materials especially geared for children.  These kits are prepackaged and meant to be carried by the traveler, in the field. In the event that medical personnel arrive to the scene of the injury or the child is taken to the hospital, the parent simply requests that their prepackaged and sterile IV kit be used instead of the hospital's. 

On the road
Once you are on the road make sure to identify a local pharmacy as soon as possible so that you are not searching for one should a need arise.  Your hotel front desk is often a great resource in finding the nearest pharmacy to your room.  Local pharmacies in most other parts of the world are not the same as the one down the street here in America.  Often times, the local pharmacist has the ability to prescribe basic medications including antibiotics.  They can also assist with basic diagnosis of the illness and references and directions to the local hospitals. 

Another huge factor to securing adequate health care in an emergency is the language barrier.  I may be able to order a great sandwich or beer in the local language but can I say that my child has had a fever for three days, vomiting for one day with out blood in the vomit and is also tugging on their ear.  This is vital information a doctor will want to know.  A decent phrase book will often have a small section on medical terms and this should be carried in the first aid kit, as well. 

Travel with your kids can be an incredibly rewarding experience!  I am especially grateful that my parents took the time to bring me on their adventures. A bit of preplanning and a decent first aid kit will go a long way in making sure that trip is a wonderful experience of fun and adventure, not a story of "remember when I got sick in______!?!?"

Erik McLaughlin MD, MPH

Erik is a licensed physician who specializes in travel and expedition medicine. Prior to becoming a doctor, he was a professional outdoor athlete and has enjoyed adventures all over the world. In addition to his medical degree, Erik has completed a Master's of Public Health in International Health and a Diploma in Travel and Tropical Medicine. He is an active member of the Wilderness Medical Society and the International Society of Travel Medicine. When he is not working at the Adventure Doc Clinic he can be found practicing emergency medicine in Southern Arizona. On his days off, he enjoys mountain biking, trail running / hiking, climbing and kayaking with his wife Katerina.

Print it in Moleskine MSK format


A 2 Z said...


Following you back from TTA. You have very good info about travelling with young children. I have travelled all over the world when my kids were young: Australia, South Africa, etc. I have a child with diabetes so the challenge was extreme sometimes. Thanks for sharing. Anne-Marie

Shell said...

Some very good advice!

Thanks for stopping by my space today and checking it out. I'm a new follower to your blog too!

Simply Stacie said...

I'm following you from Tuesday Tag Along!


Jill and Michelle said...

Hi Lilli

Thanks for visitin my blog. I'm now following you back!


Mama E said...

Tagging you back from Tuesday Tag Along. What a great series!
-Mama E
Home and Hearts

Kate said...

Good Morning! I gave you an award today. Stop back to Webster's Updates for details :)

nicolesspirit878 said...

What an informative blog! We are traveling to West Virginia at the end of the month with my 8 month old and I hope it goes smoothly.

Laurie said...

I really appreciate this article/info. I am going to bookmark it so I can refer back to it. You have a great blog! Visiting and now following from Scene of the Grime. Thanks for following me!

Lee-Ann said...

This is a useful article. Although many of the points are just common sense, I did not think to bring some of the items like Pedialyte! Guess I am off to the store to get a bottle or two!
We are fortunate that traveling for us has never been difficult, we don't have kids with allergies or any other ailment to worry about.
When we travel to Italy we are fortunate to stay with family, my hubby speaks the language and has dual citizenship so getting medical help is never difficult!

Keep up the good work.