When traveling with infants and children, parents need to have a ‘hope for the best, plan for the worst’ mindset. In planning for your vacation, parents need to be aware of the most commonly reported health problems among child travelers in Vietnam—especially here in Danang.
These are the most common illnesses encountered while traveling:
- Asthma and Allergies
- Skin problems (including animal or insect bites)
Pre-travel assessment from clinicians at home is also important to make sure routine childhood and travel-related vaccinations are reviewed in advance. It’s also important to pack your own common travel medicines to treat common illnesses and bring them from home, due to the high incidence of fake medications known to be on sale in Vietnam.
Diarrhea (and associated gastrointestinal illnesses) are the most common travel-related problems affecting children. For infants, breastfeeding is the best way to reduce the risk of food-borne and water-borne disease. Parents who are feeding their child with milk formula should consider whether they need to bring formula from home, because locally available brands will not have the same nutritional composition as the one their child is used to. Bottled water should be used for drinking, brushing teeth, mixing formula and even making ice. Proper and thorough hand washing and cleaning of feeding bottles must be done. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is not effective against certain pathogens, so hands should be washed with soap and water.
The biggest threat to children with diarrhea and vomiting is dehydration. Medical attention may be required for children with diarrhea and other signs and symptoms such as:
- Fever above 38.1°C
- Cannot tolerate oral medications
- Persistent vomiting
- No urine output for six hours
A simple fever can be a sign of a serious underlying illness. It is safe to give paracetamol to children with fever. The best way to prevent systemic illness or infection is to prevent mosquito bites, especially during travel.
Medical evaluation is highly recommended if:
- The fever has lasted for three days or more
- It is associated with cough and colds
- The fever cannot be controlled with paracetamol
- Other signs and symptoms are noted such as headache, abdominal pain or body malaise.
Asthma and Allergies
Children who are diagnosed with asthma or allergies must always keep their medications near them and pack them into a carry-on bag for easy access. Always carry antihistamine, an inhaler, steroids, and (for severe cases) epinephrine, anywhere and everywhere you go. Consider packing a face mask—it may help reduce the risk of exposure to any allergen that can trigger asthma or allergies.
Motorcycle accidents are also common here in Danang, because bikes are the primary mode of transport. A broken leg is the most common injury, but accidents can also cause fractures to the wrist, arm, shoulders or pelvis. Failure to wear adequate protective clothing makes the skin vulnerable to an injury known as road rash—which if not properly cleaned can lead to an infection. Medical consultation is strongly advised, especially for children, with a thorough physical examination and assessment for proper injury management.
Children often put objects in their mouths, and children younger than five years old can easily choke on small objects or even food. Choking occurs when things get stuck in the throat and obstruct the airway. This can stop oxygen from getting to the lungs and the brain. Brain damage or even death may occur when the brain goes without oxygen for more than four minutes. Small toys, balloons, coins, marble and some food cause the majority of deaths by choking. Avoid toys with small parts and keep other items out of reach of infants and young children. Supervise mealtimes and most important, learn CPR.
Help your children to prevent mosquito and other insect bites by using insect repellent. Repellents can be applied to exposed skin and clothing on children older than two months of age.
Rabies is spread through animal bites or scratches. Rabies is more common in children than in adults, because children are more likely to try to pet animals. Tell your children to stay away from stray animals, but teach them that if they are bitten, they should tell an adult immediately. Any animal bite should be washed thoroughly with soap and running water, and must receive medical attention as soon as possible.
When you travel with your children, you are giving them something that can never be taken away—experience. These experiences are more likely to be positive if you plan and prepare for these easily-anticipated illnesses.
Dr. Elvie Joy Atanque-Basa worked as a GP and pediatrician after graduating from Cebu’s University of Visayas Gullas College of Medicine, before which she was already a licensed pharmacist. A believer in treating each patient like family, she maintains that a prescription is sometimes less important than attentive listening and sound medical advice.