Summer vacation begins at most Maine schools this week, college students are leaving campuses, and many families are packing up for fun family trips over the break. No matter where you plan to go, a little advance planning will help you return safe, healthy and happy. By preparing your family with necessary medications, immunizations, and other preventive techniques, you can help ensure that illness isn’t one of your souvenirs.
Traveling with kids is a wonderful way to expand their horizons while strengthening family relationships. Whether you are on a camping trip or a cruise ship, the time you spend together away from your daily routines can be magical and create treasured memories. Travel exposes us to new sights, traditions, people, ideas … and germs. Several cases of travel-associated infectious disease among Mainers are reported each year. Don’t let a preventable illness interrupt a fun family getaway! As soon as you decide on your travel plans, give your family doctor or travel clinic a call. Current immunizations, preventative medications, and other recommendations for your travel destination can keep your family travels on track.
Staying Healthy During Domestic Travel
If your family will be traveling within the U.S., you will want all your recommended routine vaccinations to be up-to-date. Places where large numbers of people from around the world congregate, such as airports, train stations, tourist attractions, water or theme parks, restaurants, hotels, and summer camps can increase the risk of exposure to many bacteria and viruses.
Although vaccines can help prevent infection from some of these germs, there are many for which vaccines are not available. In addition to timely vaccination, hand hygiene and food and water safety can help protect your family’s health. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention post some of the larger current disease outbreaks, most outbreaks are confined to individual cities or regions. You can check with the state or local health department at your travel destination about current risks, especially if someone in your family has underlying medical conditions.
Staying Healthy During International Travel
International travel is so exciting—and can require more advanced planning. In addition to all of the recommended routine vaccinations, the CDC may recommend additional protections based on each traveler, what you will be doing, and where you will be going. You can search recommendations based on your destination here and find current travel alerts here. Keep in mind that some countries require certain vaccines for entry. Be sure to carry your immunization records with your other important documents, like passports and plane tickets, in case you need medical attention during your travels.
Your family or travel doctor will help you understand all the potential risks associated with your travel plans and suggest ways to protect your family while still having fun. Some common concerns your doctor may discuss with you are:
- MEASLES – If you will be traveling internationally with a baby less than 12 months old, let your baby’s healthcare provider know. The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is recommended for infants as early as 6 months of age if they are traveling outside of the U.S.
- ANIMAL BITES – Rabies is a greater risk in many countries where the virus is not well-controlled among domesticated animals such as dogs and cats. All mammals can contract and transmit rabies, so contact with wild animals is also a concern. Animals infected with rabies may not appear ill early in their illness. The best protection is to avoid all contact with wild and stray animals and to seek immediate medical attention for animal bites for access to life-saving post-exposure rabies vaccine. Pre-exposure rabies vaccine is also recommended prior to travel for many international destinations.
- MOSQUITO-BORNE DISEASES – Malaria, Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, and Zika virus are all illnesses transmitted in primarily hot, tropical areas through the bite of a mosquito. These infections can be quite serious and can be fatal. The best prevention is to avoid mosquito bites in at-risk areas by wearing pants, long sleeves and mosquito repellant and by sleeping under a bed net. To prevent malaria, your doctor may recommend that you take a course of antimalarial drugs before, during and after your trip. Because Zika has been linked to serious birth defects in newborns whose mothers were infected during pregnancy, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and their partners should consult their healthcare provider prior to travel to affected areas, including Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and the Pacific Islands. Additional information about Zika and recommendations can be found at the CDC Zika website.
- FOODBORNE AND WATERBORNE DISEASES- Shigellosis, salmonellosis, E.coli infection, Hepatitis A, Cryptosporidiosis, Campylobacter, and Typhoid are all infections that can be transmitted through contaminated water or food. Hepatitis A and Typhoid are the only ones that can be prevented through immunization, and these vaccines need to started well before travel. Many of these infections can be prevented through good hand hygiene and by avoiding: Tap or well water (or ice and drinks made with it), unpasteurized milk, juices, and cheeses, food served at room temperature or from street vendors, raw or undercooked meat, fish, and eggs, and unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables.
Make Preventative Health Part of Your Family Travel Plans
Vaccines take time to reach their full effectiveness, some vaccines take more than one dose, some medications should be taken in advance, and situations change and develop rapidly—so don’t delay. Talk to your family doctor about your travel plans today!