Hooray! Families will be heading off on holiday in the nearby future. Everyone prepares in their own way. I’m seeing more and more families with (young) children heading off to exotic destinations in Africa, South America and Asia. Places like Zanzibar, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Bali or one of the islands off the coast of Thailand. Magnificent beaches, cultural highlights, good food and plenty of sporting activities. These destinations are now tried and tested, and generally safely accessible with children.
There are, however, several things that families with children need to take into special account. Kids are among the more vulnerable travellers when it comes to contracting infectious diseases. The same goes for pregnant women, people on medication and elderly travellers.
This is the most common form of illness among travellers. This is usually caused by the change in surroundings and climate. The local food and water often differs from what we are used to. Mostly it’s just a harmless viral infection that will be over within 48 hours. If diarrhoea persists, especially in children, it’s important you start using ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution), which is a solution of salts and sugars that prevents serious dehydration and helps restore proper bowel function. Nowadays, you can find ORS everywhere especially for children, as well as for adults. If you develop a fever or if there is blood in your faeces, you should seek medical help.
Check for medical care
Before heading off to your destination, make sure you know where you can get adequate medical treatment. You can acquire this information from your travel or health insurance company, or by subscribing to Doctor Connect. Make sure you have the necessary medical insurance for your trip. Check the terms and conditions of your insurance policy to avoid incurring high costs unexpectedly.
Water and ice
Local water may also be an irritant for your bowels. Children are especially vulnerable, because their bowels are not yet as accustomed to strange germs as adults are.
Eating ice cream or drinking water with ice cubes can also give kids a headache in warmer climates. This headache arises when the cold drink or ice cream comes into contact with the back of the nasal passage and palate. The nerve endings can send signals to the brain, which cause specific blood vessels to contract. Most people are familiar with this phenomenon, but it may be interesting to know why this happens.
Mosquitos are very annoying on holiday, but they can also carry diseases! These days you can protect babies and children well with the mosquito repellent DEET. In some countries you need to protect yourself and the children during the day, because certain mosquito’s are active during the day. And remember when applying sunscreen: put sunscreen on first, allow a period of half an hour to dry, prior to applying DEET insect repellent. DEET is not waterproof. Other kinds of mosquito, especially those that carry malaria, are active from the start of sundown. Be aware of this and take sufficient precautions and, if you have been prescribed malaria profylaxis (tablets to prevent malaria) by your doctor, take them. Children are especially vulnerable to malaria, which is still one of the most common causes of death among children in Africa. You can read more about how to protect yourself from mosquitos here and your Travel Clinic will be able to answer any questions you might have.
Last but not least: Vaccinations! There are still children being taken travelling without having first been vaccinated. Vaccinations against diseases like hepatitis A and rabies are not covered by the government vaccination programme in the Netherlands. Rabies is a deadly disease that can be transmitted through a bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal, usually a cat or dog, but bats are also carriers. In fact, any mammal can carry and transmit this disease. Once this virus has entered your nervous system the disease begins to develop and treatment is no longer possible. This process and the non-specific symptoms that go with it, can sometimes last weeks. Children are more likely to pet “cute animals” and are often nearly the same size as the animal they are stroking, which makes them even more vulnerable. Stories about this happening are being reported ever more often in the news.
Rabies is easily prevented if you have been vaccinated, and I personally think this is an essential vaccination for children in particular. I cannot emphasize enough that this disease is fatal. If you plan to travel a lot to distant destinations with your children, my advice would be to vaccinate yourself and your children against rabies. A series of three vaccinations will protect you for years. The disease is extremely rare in the Netherlands, but it does occur in countries around the Mediterranean, as well as more distant destinations. If you are not vaccinated, you need to get treatment within 24 hours, otherwise rabies is fatal. The medicine you need, human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG), is very hard to come by and if you can’t reach an adequate medical facility or return to your home country within 24 hours, you have a serious problem.
So, prepare your journey thoroughly, check the advice I have given you here with a Travel Clinic before you leave, and then enjoy a carefree holiday with your children!