Travelling with young children

Latest update: - Authors: Mieke Croughs, Ula Maniewski-Kelner

Children are exposed to the same health risks as adults, but the consequences can be more severe.

Traveller’s diarrhoea, dengue fever and tuberculosis are often more severe. Malaria can kill a young child in a matter of hours. In addition, some vaccines are less effective or may not be administered to very young children. Children are also more sensitive to the sun, to motion sickness and to pressure changes when climbing and descending in an aeroplane, resulting in earache.

Infants are allowed to fly from the age of seven days. Air travel is not recommended for premature infants, but urgent transportation in an incubator under medical supervision can be organised from 48 hours after birth. 

Prevention

Preparation

  • Discuss your travel plans well in advance of departure (at least six to eight weeks) with your doctor or a doctor in a specialised travel clinic.
  • Take a travel pharmacy with you to treat small problems yourself.
  • Take a medical self-help manual with you.
  • Ensure that you have good cover for travel assistance insurance.
  •  Take a first aid course for a long or adventurous journey.
  • Consider having young children’s ears checked before air travel.

Vaccinations

  • Ensure that all basic vaccinations are up to date.
  • Discuss an early measles vaccination if your child has not been vaccinated against measles yet.
  • If your child is younger than five years of age and you expect to be in close contact with the local population or will be spending a long period in a country with a high risk of tuberculosis, discuss whether BCG vaccination is indicated.

Malaria

  • Try to avoid travelling to an area with a high risk of malaria.
  • Strictly follow the measures to prevent malaria in the other regions where malaria occurs.  Children weighing 5 kg or more can take malaria tablets.
  • Protect your child against mosquito bites and  ticks  and ensure that he/she sleeps under an impregnated mosquito net.

Food

  • Be extra careful with food and drinks.
  • Continue breastfeeding for as long as possible, as this offers the best protection against diarrhoea. Extra (purified) water can be given on a spoon in a hot climate.
  • Take a specially formulated salt and sugar solution (ORS) with you for young children, to prevent or cure dehydration in case of diarrhoea.

Sun protection

  • Protect your child against the harmful effects of the sun by ensuring that they wear clothing and a hat or cap.
  • Apply a high factor sun cream regularly (50).
  • Keep your child out of the full sun, particularly between 11:00 and 15:00.

Animals

  • Keep your child far away from animals, particularly in countries where rabies occurs in pets. Children can be licked whilst playing with animals and can become infected without you even realising it.
  • Discuss vaccination if you are going to a country where rabies occurs in dogs.
  • Never let your child play outside on bare feet, even at the beach or in the sea.

Traffic

  • Take dangerous traffic situations into consideration.
  • Use safety measures as you would at home, such as a car seat and bicycle helmet.

Travel pace

Set the travel pace according to the children’s ability to adapt.

Earache during flight

Try to get children to drink or suck whilst the aircraft is climbing and descending (bottle, breast or dummy).

High altitude

  • Children are no more susceptible to altitude sickness than adults, but it is harder to recognise in children. Young children can demonstrate excitability, restlessness, muscle tension, reduced appetite, less playing, sleeping disorder and sometimes vomiting as signs of altitude sickness.
  • Therefore, descend immediately if a young child is unwell at an altitude above 2500 metres.
  •  Try to avoid spending the night at an altitude above 2000 metres for children under two years of age and above 3000 metres for children under ten years of age.
  • If a rapid increase is not unavoidable, you can consider using acetazolamide (5 mg per kg per dose, to be divided into one or two administrations per day).

In case of symptoms

Seek medical advice if you suffer any symptoms.

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