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With more families traveling to exotic locales, medical concerns need to be considered.
If you’re a parent, chances are good you’ve had a heart-pounding scare at some point. Maybe it was watching your child take a hard fall off the jungle gym, or a fever that kept rising no matter what you do.
Now imagine if that moment happens in a foreign country while traveling. As more parents expose their children to international travel at younger ages, there’s a greater need for guidance when it comes to keeping kids healthy overseas.
Be PreparedThe first thing for parents to remember is to not become obsessed by fear.
"Preparation is important, but don’t become so consumed with safety that the trip can’t be enjoyed for what is — an adventure for the family with time together to simply relax," said Dr. Jim McCormick, of Los Angeles-based Premiere Medical Travel Company, a practice that specializes in travel health.
Dr. McCormick says bringing along medical records is a good idea for parents. Keep it low-tech though — a single index card with neat printing or typing and maybe a photo. List your child’s name, date of birth, medical conditions, medications, allergies and vaccinations.
Most important when traveling, according to Dr. McCormick, is to trust your instincts.
"Your instinct as a parent is your best guide. Even if you ‘jump the gun’ and go to the hospital on the first sign of illness, the peace of mind knowing your child was examined and treated will be worth it," he said. "This decision can become harder as you travel more remotely. It may be safer to start heading toward civilization sooner if someone becomes ill. A mild fever and throwing up a few times in the capital city of a country offers immediate access to care. While the same symptoms several days of travel up the Amazon River presents a very different set of decisions."
Karen Rodriguez, a pediatric nurse practitioner based in Los Angeles, suggested parents use common sense when picking destinations.
"Care is typically available in socialized countries," she said. "It may be harder to find immediate aid in third-world countries and more remote places. The areas that can’t provide medical care for their own citizens, are the area’s I suggest families stay away from."
So what should parents do if their child becomes ill and needs medications?
Dr. McCormick says it’s probably safest to stick to large-chain pharmacies and those found in hospitals. On his own recent family trip to the Philippines, Dr. McCormick brought along only some tablets for nausea and diarrhea.
"For children, vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration more quickly," he said. "Focus on hydration with bottled water, balanced electrolyte solutions, such as Gatorade or Pedialyte, or soda that lacks carbonation."
Regardless of the problem, if kids become ill overseas, parents may need to converse with non-English-speaking medical professionals. It can be hard enough to explain symptoms to your doctor at home, but what if there’s a language barrier?
The key, said Dr. McCormick, is to stay calm, speak in simple terms and don’t use slang.
"Language barriers can often be overcome by utilizing a good travel dictionary. I have had families simply point at words when they can’t say something," suggested Rodriguez. "Remember, much of identifying what is wrong with a child is based on a physical exam anyway."
Extra ProtectionFor those parents who want to make absolutely sure they will have access to medical help when they need it, travel insurance is a good option. You may still worry about your kids getting ill, but if they do get sick the insurance company will find competent medical care no matter where you are; help you communicate using their translators; assist you with getting necessary medications; and, as a last resort, evacuate your child to a hospital of your choosing. Without this insurance, travelers have to do all of those things on their own.
"We have a vast network of over 500,000 medical providers throughout the world, and we’re available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Dan McGinnity, vice president of Travel Guard insurance. "We will actually contact a medical provider and have someone from our team on the call as well so that we’re sure you’re talking to a live person and getting the information you need. And, we’ll continue to follow through to make sure the patient is at a facility that’s actually capable of providing adequate help."
McGinnity said that parents appreciate knowing that they can provide the same level of care to their children while traveling as they can at home. Many health insurance plans are limited in the coverage they supply when traveling, or they are insufficient in an emergency.
"For instance, the average health insurance policy either doesn’t cover medical evacuations at all, or it provides a small amount, maybe $300 to $500 for ambulance transportation," he said.
Furthermore, with a family-friendly policy, children under 17 are often covered for free.
"All the things that you can’t imagine — or you don’t want to imagine — that you say to yourself ‘what if this happens,’" said McGinnity, "those are the sorts of things that are taken care of when you have a guardian angel like a comprehensive travel insurance policy."
Karen Rodriguez, a pediatric nurse practitioner, said these are some of the supplies that are most useful for parents traveling with their kids.
• Tylenol/Motrin: Available for infants or children
• Cough/cold remedies: As appropriate for your child’s age
• Benadryl for children: For cases of an allergic reaction
• Band-Aids: Various sizes
• Antibacterial soap
• Antibiotic cream
• Insurance cards: For each family member
• Immunization records
• Pedialyte or Electrolyte solutions: If possible
• Tums/Pepto Bismol: Yes, they have these for kids now!
Dr. Jim McCormick and Dr. Ash SehgalPremiere Medical Travel Company, Woodland Hills, Calif.818-936-2100www.premieremedicaltravel.comTravel Guardwww.travelguard.com