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.  

Precautions

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.

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.

Ensure that all basic vaccinations are up to date.

Discuss an early measles vaccination if your child has not been vaccinated against measles yet.

Protect your child against mosquito bites and ticks and ensure that he/she sleeps under an impregnated mosquito net.

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

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

Never let your child play outside on bare feet, even at the beach or in the sea.

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. Consider vaccination if you are going to be spending a longer period in a country where rabies occurs in dogs.

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

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.

Consider having young children’s ears checked before air travel and try to get children to drink or suck whilst the aircraft is climbing and descending (bottle, breast or dummy).

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 this is not possible, you can consider using acetazolamide (5 mg per kg per dose, to be divided over one or two administrations per day).

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 vaccination (BCG) is indicated.

Take a medical self-help manual and a travel pharmacy with you to treat small problems yourself. Take a first aid course for a long or adventurous journey.

Ensure that you have good cover for travel assistance insurance. 

In case of symptoms

Seek medical advice if you suffer any symptoms.

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