International Travel with Kids

MUSC Children's Health
July 09, 2019
Smiling girl in goggles on the beach waving

It’s that time of year when children are out of school, and families are busy with summer planning and vacations. For some, travel might include an international trip and for others, summer may be a good time for an international family relocation.

No matter the reason, traveling internationally, requires that parents do their homework particularly when it comes to taking children to foreign countries. MUSC Children’s Health offers a Pediatric Travel Clinic that provides comprehensive services for children of all ages, including young adults, who will be traveling out of the country.

“It’s important for us to obtain the exact location of their travel,” said Andrea Summer, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician, who is also certified in clinical tropical medicine and travelers’ health by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. “We’ll want to see their itinerary, understand what type of lodging they will have, the type of outdoor exposure they’ll experience and the type of activities that are planned.”

She said based on the child’s medical history and the country they are visiting, they’ll make recommendations for immunizations that are routine and travel-specific. In today’s world with new measles outbreaks occurring domestically and internationally, it is critical that each child have up-to-date vaccinations.

They also will look at malaria maps to see if that is a potential issue and will provide antimalarial medicine as a preventive agent. With up to 50 percent of young travelers being impacted by travelers’ diarrhea at some destinations, a three-day course of antibiotics can be prescribed ahead of time to use as self-treatment in more severe cases.

MUSC Children’s Health has access to a database with a library of topics related to international travel so that physicians in the clinic can provide current information about travel in most international countries.

The clinic provides information on insect protection especially mosquitos and ticks, food and water safety and even information on car safety overseas and safety tips for outdoor recreation activities like swimming in each country.

“With regards to insect precautions, we recommend using deet with a 25-30 percent concentration, which can be used directly on exposed skin,” she said. “If they plan to have a lot of outdoor exposure, we ask them to treat their clothing with permethrin or to wear clothing that has already been treated with permethrin.”

In terms of food and water safety, she offered these travel tips:

  • Do not eat raw vegetables but cooked are fine.
  • Food should be served steaming hot.
  • Fruits you can peel that have a good thick skin like bananas, pineapple, melons and oranges are safe.
  • Fruits such as berries, grapes or even apples are not safe since the skin is so thin.
  • Beverages like soda and juices with seals are fine but do not drink beverages with ice since ice is often made with bad water.
  • Boiling water is safe or drinking bottled water is fine.

Dr. Summer reminds parents that the most common cause of death in international pediatric travelers is automobile accidents followed by drowning. She urges parents to travel with car seats and to make sure that children wear the appropriate safety equipment when swimming. She said in some less developed countries, they advise against swimming in lakes, streams and rivers because of the danger of parasites.

James McElligott, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician in the Pediatric Travel Clinic, encourages all families to have copies of the necessary documentation with them, including birth certificates and even marriage certificates.

He also counsels teens and their families about ways to learn how to be a good traveler. He said it is not uncommon for Americans to be approached in a foreign country whether someone is trying to sell them something or provide a service.

He urges teens to follow these rules:

  • Always know where you’re going.
  • Have a plan for how to get from point A to point B.
  • Don’t wander off by yourself.
  • Avoid traveling at night.
  • Avoid having money hang outside like in a pouch or some other item.

International travel can be a fun and exciting experience but like everything else being prepared and understanding the country being visited can make a big difference. The pediatric physicians at the clinic, are available all year long to counsel parents and their children about health and travel information for international countries.

Appointments should be scheduled four to six weeks ahead of the trip and longer for countries where a series of immunizations may be required. Learn more about the MUSC Children’s Health Pediatric Travel Clinic. Schedule an appointment, by calling Kristi Curry at 843-876-0327.

About the Author

MUSC Children's Health

Keywords: Childrens Health, Infectious Disease, Travel Medicine