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Health and Travel

International travel has dramatically increased in recent years for children eighteen years of age and younger. Although increased medical care worldwide has greatly decreased the dangers associated with such traveling youngsters, these explorers are most at risk for many ailments. The three most common risks include infections or parasites caught from soil contact, malaria, and traveler’s diarrhea.
     It goes with out saying that children love nature and have a strong tendency to root about in the dirt or sand. Many parasites and infections can occur from such contact. Some of the usual suspects include hookworm, ascariasis, and cutaneous larva migrans to name just a few. Other than closely monitoring the child, the best defense against such ailments is to make sure the child has proper protective footwear and to encourage them to play on a blanket or towel rather than directly in the dirt.
     Malaria is a dangerous disease that children are particularly at risk for. This risk is compounded by the fact that malaria’s symptoms are much like many other normal childhood illnesses. It’s best to err on the side of caution when any symptoms manifest in a child in a malarial region. The best defense is to ensure the child is properly covered at all times. Long pants and shirts paired with proper shoes and socks are the best mainline defense against malaria. Insect repellent also never hurt but mind that solutions containing deet not be used on younger children. If malaria occurs, it can be treated with anti-malaria medications which can be mixed with food or drink to make it more palatable to the child. Even with anti-malaria medication, medical attention should still be sought.
     Traveler’s diarrhea is a common problem many adventurer’s face. But with children, especially young ones, the threats posed by this malady are much greater. Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration which can quickly lead to serious emergency. The best thing a parent can do is to carefully monitor the child’s liquid and food intake to ensure that diarrhea doesn’t develop in the first place. If it should develop though, complex carbohydrates can help minimize the risk of dehydration. Kids tend to love cereal which is an excellent source of such carbohydrates. Be cautious though, because foreign milk is often unpasteurized and may even be diluted with local water which can exacerbate the child’s symptoms. If signs of dehydration develop, give the child any palatable liquid they are willing to consume until medical attention can be accessed. It may be necessary to administer the liquid in small sips or spoonfuls. Obviously water and sports drinks such as Gatorade are the best choices, but if the child is also vomiting, soda may help calm the stomach. Also bear in mind that even sports drinks lack the correct proportion of salts and electrolytes to treat a sick child, so seeking medical attention is still very important.

     These tips can help keep families safe even in the most exotic lands. The most important thing to remember is to research the location you’ll be visiting very carefully before you ever step out your front door. This advice is valuable but should not replace advice offered by a medical professional. Do the best you can to avoid ever needing to see a doctor abroad through preparation and research, but don’t hesitate to seek medical help if any ailments develop. Doctors abroad are keener to local diseases and problems and will know best how to treat them.


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