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Travel Health and Safety Tips

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By Cathy Lanigan, Lonely Planet

Diarrhea and vomiting

Children - especially young children and babies - are more likely than adults to get diarrhea when they are away. They also tend to get more severe symptoms and for longer. It's partly because children are less discriminating about what they put in their mouths and it's hard to keep little hands clean, but it may also be because they have less immunity to disease-causing bugs.

Babies and children can become rapidly dehydrated through diarrhea and vomiting, and it can be difficult to make sure they drink enough. The best fluids to give children are oral rehydration salts (ORS). You need to start giving them as soon as diarrhea or vomiting appears. You can make ORS more palatable by adding flavors or look for ready-flavored sachets of ORS. Avoid food if kids are vomiting.

The World Health Organization gives the following guidelines for the quantity of fluid replacements:

  • 2 to 10 years: one half to one cup per loose stool
  • Over 10 years: as for adults (two cups per loose stool

If children are vomiting, allow the stomach to rest for about an hour before trying to give them fluids. Then reintroduce fluids very slowly. If your child is refusing to drink, try giving small amounts by teaspoon or syringe every few minutes. Seek medical help earlier rather than later, especially if you notice any of the following symptoms developing:

  • Prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
  • Refusal to take fluids
  • Listlessness
  • Fever
  • Blood or mucus in the diarrhea

In children feces may take 10 to 14 days to return to normal (though sometimes longer). As long as the feces are not too frequent, you shouldn't worry about slightly loose feces in an otherwise fit and recovered child.

Note that symptomatic antidiarrheal medications are not recommended for children and should be avoided. If your child is ill enough to need antibiotics, you should seek medical advice.

Tummy ache

This is a very common complaint among children and adults. The causes are many and varied, and some may be very serious. If your child is prone to tummy aches, the stress of traveling may make them more likely while you are away. Otherwise situations when you should seek medical help include:

  • Any tummy ache with a fever as it could be caused by malaria, typhoid, bladder infection,
  • Severe tummy ache that is continuous for more than three hours as it could be appendicitis
  • Tummy ache with profuse vomiting and diarrhea as there is a danger of dehydration
  • Tummy ache that's not normal for your child, especially if your child is generally unwell

Colds, cough and earache

Children are particularly likely to succumb to new germs in new places, so be prepared! Asthma (cough, wheezing) may occur for the first time while you are away and can be frightening, especially if your child has never experienced it before. You should seek medical advice if your child is having difficulty breathing.

If you suspect an ear infection consult a doctor as antibiotics will be required for a middle ear infection. If your child does get an infection try to avoid water getting in the ear for two weeks.

After You Get Back

Consider getting a checkup for yourself and your children if you've been on a long trip or have been traveling rough. Make sure your doctor is aware you've been traveling and where.