Travel in Good Health – Part 1 of 3

24 07 2014

[Editor’s note: We posted this a few years ago, but find the info timely, so what the heck, we’re running it again! Parts 2 and 3 run 25 and 26 July.]

Traveling with children, no matter their age, can be a joyful, tiring, exciting, and exhausting endeavor. Traveling with children who get sick on the trip is just plain exhausting and, sometimes, exciting in a way that we don’t want to experience.

Although dealing with illness in the midst of a family trip isn’t ideal, you can take steps to prevent illness before traveling and equip yourself with supplies to make the treatment of illness easier and more comforting.

Prevention is key, and no one does that better than the CDC. This article captures some tips for traveling families from CDC’s website, and a few other places.

If anyone in your travel group has an existing condition that may affect his or her health, it’s important to discuss travel health safety with a healthcare provider.

If you’re traveling outside the United States and you love detail, download a copy of CDC’s Yellow Book . It’s written for healthcare providers, but many people find it useful. Wherever you’re traveling, these suggestions may help you and yours avoid infectious diseases on the road.

There are steps you can take prior to departure that will protect you and your kids, and many things you can do while traveling. First, the pre-departure list:

Time Zones and Rest

If you’re changing time zones, spend a few days just before travel adjusting your sleep/wake periods to match the destination’s time zones. When you arrive, get out during the sunny periods so that you body realizes it’s time to be awake. Good sleep is critical to good health. Make sure everyone gets lots of rest a few days before and then during the trip.

Vaccinations

You and your kids should be up-to-date on currently recommended vaccines in the U.S.

If you’re traveling outside the United States, you need to check the destination country for recommended vaccines for you and your children, and if you have special health concerns, you need to determine which vaccines to get and which you should not have. Not all vaccines recommended for international travel are licensed for children.

Health Notices

If you’re traveling outside the U.S., read the CDC’s Health Notices first to get the latest updates on infectious diseases in various areas of the world. What you learn may affect your travel plans.

First Aid Kits

Prepare a first aid kit for the trip or purchase one from a commercial vendor. This is a sample list, as not all destinations require the same things.

  • 1% hydrocortisone cream
  • Ace wrap
  • Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or other medication for pain or fever
  • Address and phone numbers of area hospitals or clinics
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Aloe gel for sunburns
  • Antacid
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Antibacterial hand wipes (including child-safe) or alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Antibiotic for general use or travelers’ diarrhea (azithromycin, cefixime)
  • Antidiarrheal medication (e.g., bismuth subsalicylate, loperamide)
  • Antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams
  • Antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
  • Antimalarial medications, if applicable
  • Anti-motion sickness medication
  • Commercial suture/syringe kits (to be used by local health-care provider with a letter from your prescribing physician on letterhead stationery)
  • Cotton-tipped applicators (such as Q-tips)
  • Cough suppressant/expectorant
  • Decongestant, alone or in combination with antihistamine
  • Diaper rash ointment
  • Digital thermometer
  • Epinephrine auto-injector (e.g., EpiPen), especially if anyone has a history of severe allergic reaction. Also available in smaller-dose package for children.
  • First aid quick reference card
  • Gauze
  • Ground sheet (water- and insect-proof)
  • High-altitude preventive medication
  • Insect repellent containing DEET (up to 50%)
  • Latex condoms
  • Laxative (mild)
  • Lice treatment (topical)
  • Lubricating eye drops
  • Malaria prophylaxis and standby treatment, as required by itinerary
  • Medications that the child has used in the past year
  • Moleskin for blisters
  • Mosquito netting, if applicable
  • Oral rehydration solution (ORS) packets
  • Personal prescription medications in their original containers (carry copies of all prescriptions, including the generic names for medications, and a note from the prescribing physician on letterhead stationery for controlled substances and injectable medications)
  • Safe water
  • Scabies topical ointment
  • Sedative (mild) or other sleep aid
  • Snacks
  • Sunscreen (preferably SPF 15 or greater)
  • Throat lozenges
  • Tweezers
  • Water purification tablets

Discuss with your family’s pediatrician any special needs your children might have that require you to prepare beyond this basic list. Also, your pediatrician may be able to give you sample sizes of antibiotics and other meds that may be useful for your kit.

Health Insurance

Before traveling, check your health insurance policy to see what it pays for. It will probable reimburse you for most of the cost of emergency medical care abroad, excluding any deductible or co-payment. For non-emergency care overseas, you may be covered, but check with your health plan about this before you leave home. Failure to get authorization may mean denial of reimbursement.

Travel Regulations

Check travel regulations and carry what you can onboard the plane, particularly prescription medication. Put the rest in your checked baggage. Put your first aid kit in a fanny pack or backpack that you take with you everywhere you go. There’s no sense bringing the kit if you don’t have it when you need it.

Now that you’ve done your pre-departure prep, stay tuned for Part 2 for some tips on problems you may encounter on the road.

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Here Come the Germs!

24 09 2013

I love my kids. I do. But, may I just say, entre nous, that my heartbeat slows and I’m immersed in a narcotic sense of freedom when they toddle off to school each September.

That euphoric bliss lasts about two weeks. Maybe. Then come the colds, the aches, the lethargy, the sniffles, the who-knows-what.

Does your family experience the same thing? Here’s what’s going on:

  • In the US, kids under 17 years of age experience over 50 million colds each year. M-m-million!
  • Kids miss almost 22 million (there’s that “m” word again) days of school due to colds.
  • Diarrhea is no slouch when it comes to affecting the health of our kids—it’s a big contributor to missed school days.
  • Bacteria and viruses can survive on desktops, doorknobs, walls, water spigots, cafeteria trays, shoes, backpacks, purses, and other surfaces for minutes or even hours. A few even longer, depending on the environment. The germs lurk on surfaces, waiting for unsuspecting hands to slide by and pick them up.
  • Some kids and teachers don’t cover their coughs and sneezes, and they don’t clean their hands when it’s important to do so. Depending on the germ, it may float in the air and wait to be inhaled, or drop on a surface and wait to be picked up, or transfer from germy hands to surfaces or the waiting hands of others.

What can we do? We can’t completely protect our kids from the germs in the world (and there’s no way I’m homeschooling), so we teach them how to protect themselves and live with the fact that they’re occasionally going to pick up germs. Picking up germs is not a bad thing. That exposure helps strengthen the immune system and does other good things for the body that are best left to another blog post.

To keep illness down to a manageable level, share these tips with your family:

  • Wash hands with soap and water after coughing, sneezing, playing inside or outside, going to the bathroom, or touching animals, and before preparing or eating food and at any time that the hands look dirty. And, wash those hands as soon as you come home from school or, well, anywhere.
  • Use hand sanitizer in place of soap and water if no soap/water is available, but soap and water are preferred. Remember that hand sanitizer kills many germs, but only while it’s being rubbed onto the hands. Once it’s dry and the hand touches something germy even two seconds later, germs will live on the hands again.
  • Cough and sneeze into the crook of the elbow. Coughing and sneezing into tissues is OK, but not ideal. The tissues are thin and the germs blast right through onto the hands, requiring an immediate hand cleaning. Plus, the germs are more likely to escape the tissue and float around waiting to be inhaled, or drop onto surfaces, waiting to be touched.
  • Don’t share with others anything your mouth touches. This means don’t share forks, spoons, water bottles, food, drinking glasses, straws, lipstick or any other makeup, come to think of it, and don’t use anything that’s touched another person’s mouth, such as their pen or pencil or any item already listed. This is not a complete list, just one to get you thinking about how germs can be passed from one person to another.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, as these are entryways for germs.
  • Walk around your home with a disinfecting wipe and clean doorknobs (interior and exterior), light switches and the wall area around them if the wall surface will hold up to the moisture, keyboards, remote controls—anything around the house that gets touched a lot.
  • Call your provider and your child’s provider and make sure the entire family is up-to-date on immunizations.

Share your tips in the comment section. Let’s try to have a healthy school year!

 

By Trish Parnell

 

 





Germs (and kids) Go Back To School!

27 08 2012

Kids are headed back to school, and all their germs are going with them. This means that germ-swapping is about to take place. Are you ready? Is your child?

Share these three concepts with your kids and their school year is likely to be healthier than years past.

Clean your hands

Use soap and water if possible and if not, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Clean hands before leaving the house, after you get to school, before you eat, after using the restroom, and anytime your hands are dirty. Important: keep your hands off of your eyes, nose, and mouth, and don’t touch any scrapes or breaks on your skin unless your hands have just been cleaned.

Get immunized

Parents, this one is up to you. Most kids aren’t going to remind you that they need to be vaccinated, so please put it on your schedule to get it done. We don’t have vaccines against every disease, but in combination with clean hands and standard precautions, they’re effective shields against infections.

Practice standard precautions in daily living

Practicing standard precautions means assuming that every person’s blood or body fluid is infected with HIV, HBV, or other bloodborne germs, and then acting accordingly to prevent infection. Since most people who are infected are unaware of their infection status, it’s safest to assume everyone is infected with something and to keep barriers between yourself and another person’s blood or body fluid. This means that you never use your bare hands to touch someone’s blood (or body fluid). You get a towel, or put gloves on, or find something to put between you and the fluid. Kids should simply tell an adult if they see someone who is hurt and know not to touch anything leaking from another person.

If you repeat the messages often enough, the kids will adopt the habit of prevention.

By Trish Parnell
Image courtesy of Johnny Ancich





Fevers – Not Always a Cause for Alarm

26 07 2012

Few symptoms cause as much confusion and concern as fevers do. Dr. Katherine Vaughn, PKIDs’ medical director, answers questions about this worrisome symptom (check with your child’s doctor to determine what course of action is best for your child):

Why do Fevers Occur?

A fever is a resetting of the body’s thermostat to a higher temperature. This usually occurs in response to an infection, although other conditions can cause fever as well. Fever is an indicator that the immune system is working.

What is a Fever?

We all tend to think of 98.6 as a “normal” temperature, and anything above as a fever. In fact, temperature varies from person to person, and will also fluctuate by about a degree in any given person over the course of a day. We typically run about a degree lower in the morning compared to the evening. A temperature of over 100.4 is considered a fever.

How should a Temperature Be Taken?

Rectal temperature is considered the “gold standard”, and it’s most important to obtain in this way in an infant under 3 months of age. An axillary or ear (tympanic) temperature can be obtained in older infants and children. Forehead and pacifier thermometers are not as reliable a measure of temperature.

When Do I Worry About a Fever?

Always notify your doctor if an infant 3 months of age or younger has a rectal temp of over 100.4. The fever itself isn’t harmful, but babies this age can be quite ill without showing other signs, and will likely need to be seen.

For children over 3 months of age, it’s less likely they will be seriously ill and not have other signs and symptoms. A child’s behavior and activity level are more important clues to the severity of illness. A 6 month old who is playing and happy with a temperature of 103 would be less concerning than a 9 month old with a 101 temp who is listless and lethargic. A fever has to be quite high (generally felt to be greater than 106) for the fever itself to be harmful.

Other symptoms, such as rash, trouble breathing, lethargy, or other indications of a sick-looking child should prompt a call to your physician or visit to the ER. Fevers over 104 degrees, or any fever lasting more than 3 days should prompt a call to your physician to help assess for the need for a visit.

When Should a Fever Be Treated?

The main reason to treat a fever is for comfort. A happy child with a fever does not have to be treated. However, as temperatures rise over 101, many children become uncomfortable, with headache, body aches, increased heart rate, etc.

Treatment can be with acetominophen or ibuprofen at the appropriate doses. Never give your child aspirin for fever. It has been linked to a condition called Reyes’ syndrome.

Lukewarm sponge baths can also be used, as well as offering plenty of fluids. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to eat much for a few days, as long as they’re drinking.

Avoid alcohol sponging (it will raise the temperature) or cold water baths (increases discomfort).

Fever Myths

  1. “The temperature came down a few degrees and my child feels better, but the temperature still isn’t normal. My child must be really sick.” A child’s response to acetominophen or ibuprofen (in terms of degrees a fever decreases) is not an indicator of severity of illness. We don’t expect the temperature to come down to normal. Remember, treating the fever is done mainly for the child’s comfort, but it doesn’t make the illness get better any sooner.
  2. “Fever can cause brain damage.” A temperature probably has to be over 106 to cause problems like this, and in a normally healthy person, that doesn’t happen.
  3. “What about febrile (fever) seizures? They can occur at temperatures less than 106.” True. Febrile seizures are frightening. They occur in 3-4 percent of children, usually between 6 months and 5 years of age. They are typically brief and don’t cause any lasting problems. Always notify your child’s doctor if they have a febrile seizure.

Take Home Message

Fevers are rarely harmful. In a child under 3 months of age, call your doctor for any temperature over 100.4 . In older children, you can feel more comfortable evaluating the child, giving medicine to bring the fever down if they are uncomfortable, and calling the doctor if you’re concerned about how they are looking or acting.





Shot at Life

23 04 2012

Remember SARS? That virus popped up in China in 2003 and quickly coughed and sneezed its way to dozens of other countries. And the 2009 H1N1 virus made its introductory appearance in Mexico, when a pig infected a human. It then traveled the globe with a speed that shocked us.

The world is enormous, but nowadays it’s also quite small.

Long ago, when people were mostly nomadic in nature, diseases were not easily spread, at least not outside of one’s group or tribe.

Then we formed societies, lived closer together, traded wheat and pelts, and passed germs like nobody’s business. But it still took months and sometimes years for diseases to become widespread.

Today, with air travel, diseases can spread from country to country in a matter of days, and sometimes, within a few hours.

These diseases are not all new; many are vaccine-preventable. But, when the immunity in a community is low due to reluctance to vaccinate or lack of access to vaccines, these diseases which science has bested scatter anew, bringing illness and sometimes death.

The United Nations Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign targets Americans with the hope that we will be inspired to advocate for those with little or no access to vaccines.

That inspiration isn’t too hard to find, if you’re a mom or dad. Once you’re a parent, you acquire a faint and nagging voice that compels you to “parent” all kids, anyone’s kids, every kid.

There are numerous self-serving reasons to ensure everyone is vaccinated, and that’s OK. Who wants to get sick? There are some of us for whom this or that vaccine simply doesn’t work, or we can’t use a vaccine due to allergies or for other reasons. We’re unprotected and we depend on those around us to not get sick and, so, not infect us.

There are also simple, human reasons for wanting everyone vaccinated. There are boys and girls in need who should grow up laughing and being naughty sometimes, who should go to school and raise families. This one will clean toilets for 30 years and then retire to enjoy his grandchildren. That one will discover life on another planet. Another will be the teacher who changes the lives of hundreds of students, who in turn go on to do wondrous deeds.

It’s a really small world, when you think about it. Protecting other children will protect our own children. And, it’s what we do for neighbors.

Check out Shot@Life. Do something this week to help your neighbors in Nigeria, Laos, Bangladesh, and elsewhere.

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of Shot@Life





Why are Vaccines Mandated?

26 05 2011

Why does the government mandate that millions of children and adolescents receive certain immunizations for school entry?

The more people in a community who are vaccinated, the healthier that community is.  Here is how Dr. Samuel Katz, a renowned vaccine expert and a member of PKIDs’ Medical Advisory Board, explained it before Congress in 1999.

“We know too well that the level of [immunization] protection that we have now established in our children and our communities is a fragile one that depends on what we refer to as community or ‘herd’ immunity.  From the standpoint of effectiveness, modern childhood vaccines are approximately 90 to 95 percent effective.  What that means is that for every 20 children who are vaccinated one or two may not develop a sufficient immune response [or antibodies to fight an infection].

“It cannot be assured that these children will be protected from the virus or bacteria should they encounter it at school, at a playground, at a shopping mall, or at their church daycare.  However, if sufficient numbers of children in a community are immunized, the vaccinated ones protect the unprotected by effectively stopping the chain of transmission in its tracks and drastically lowering the probability that the susceptible child will encounter the bacteria or virus,” said Katz.

Community immunity also helps protect children and adults whose immune systems are compromised or weakened because of another illness or old age.

“As long as the great majority of children receive their vaccines, we will be able to maintain our current level of disease control,” Katz explained.  “However, should the level of community protection drop to the point where the viruses and bacteria travel unimpeded from person-to-person, from school-to-school, and from community-to-community, we instantly return to a past era when epidemics were an accepted part of life.”

America experienced such an outbreak in 1989-91 with the resurgence of measles.  There were 55,622 reported cases mainly in children less than 5 years of age, more than 11,000 hospitalizations and 125 deaths.  States do allow personal exemptions, so parents can choose not to vaccinate their children, but those exemptions carry risk to the child and the public’s health, emphasizing the importance of community immunity.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, on average, those children who were exempted from immunizations ran a 35-fold greater risk of contracting measles compared to those who were nonexemptors.

Not only are these children at greater risk of disease, their infections can be the spark that ignites a disease outbreak in a community.

According to Dr. Katz, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, despite the availability of a safe and effective measles vaccine, the United States continued to experience regular epidemics of measles.  Left to individual choice (as opposed to government mandates), only 60 to 70 percent of the community was immunized.

That coverage failed to provide adequate community immunity to prevent an outbreak.

“States without school immunization requirements had incidence rates for measles significantly higher than states with these requirements,” noted Dr. Katz.  “Recognizing these data, other states (not the federal government), quickly adopted similar requirements.  These requirements are supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The results are striking,” he added.  “Before we had a measles vaccine, an estimated 500,000 cases of measles were reported each year.  In 1998, there were 89 cases of measles in the United States with no measles-associated deaths.  Most counties in the United States were free of measles.  However, we have learned that nearly all of the cases of measles that did occur in the United States were imported from other countries.  This would not have been possible without the “school exclusion” statutes that now exist in every state.  While we hear dramatic stories of exotic diseases that are just a plane ride away, the importation of vaccine preventable diseases into a susceptible population is much more frightening.  Should we allow our community immunity to wane, we will negate all the progress we have made and allow our communities to be at risk from threats that are easily prevented.”

Compulsory vaccination laws in the United States have repeatedly been upheld as a reasonable exercise of the state’s compelling interest even in the absence of an epidemic or a single case.  As the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1905 in the case Jacobson vs. Massachusetts:

“ …in every well-ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members, the rights of the individuals in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations as the safety of the general public may demand.”

The Supreme Court makes clear that “the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint.  There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good.   [Liberty] is only freedom from restraint under conditions essential to the equal enjoyment of the same right by others.”

This is one in a series of excerpts from PKIDs’ Infectious Disease Workshop. We hope you find the materials useful – the instructor’s text and activities are all free downloads.

Photo credit: lawtonjm





Celebrating Prevention! NIIW 2011

18 04 2011

Protecting babies from infectious diseases is a big deal around here, as evidenced by disease prevention taking up a chunk of space in our mission statement.

National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), observed April 23-30 this year, is part of a larger global vaccine education initiative with WHO. For the past 17 years in the U.S., the CDC, health departments, and immunization organizations across the country have marked the week as a time to showcase immunization achievements and raise awareness of the need for continued vaccination of babies.

We asked our child immunization friends to share their planned activities, and we did some research of our own to find novel programs to share. To learn about activities in your area, visit the CDC’s NIIW site for details. Here’s a sampling of events coming up for NIIW:

  • Arizona – The Cochise County Health Department is giving free diapers to parents who bring in up-to-date immunization records. Children who need vaccines will also be vaccinated at the event and parents will receive free diapers. Scientific Technologies Corporation is doing a blog series during NIIW and promoting the week on their homepage.
  • Connecticut – The New Britain Immunization Program has collaborated with the New Britain Rock Cats Minor League Baseball Team to give free tickets to stadium visitors who have their children’s immunization records reviewed. The Southwestern Area Health Education Center will honor WIC moms and dads at a Mother’s Day Social where attendees will get education and play CIRTS (Connecticut Immunization Registry and Tracking System) BINGO.
  • Illinois – The Chicago Area Immunization Campaign has partnered with Jewel Osco, a local pharmacy chain, to distribute 15,000 immunization information cards with people’s prescriptions.
  • Nevada – The Northern Nevada Immunization Coalition will host “Give Kids a Boost: Sun Valley Health and Safety Fair” (GKAB Fair) to alleviate the barriers of health care access and transportation.
  • Rhode Island – The Rhode Island Department of Health has partnered with birthing hospitals and childcare centers to have area children to draw pictures inspired by the story “The Flu and You,” by Geri Rhoda, RN. The pictures will be used on placemats designed for use in the maternity wards and will include the infant immunization schedule and information about the importance of vaccinating caregivers with Tdap.
  • Texas – The Hidalgo County Health & Human Services Department will host an event with speakers from Mexico and Texas educating promotoras (health educators in Latino communities) on vaccine preventable diseases, the importance of vaccines, and the Mexico/US immunization schedule. The Immunize Kids! Dallas Area Partnership is reaching out to Hispanic families and women’s centers with education packets and presentations.

Do you have great activities planned for NIIW? Post a comment and tell us about it!

(photo courtesy snorp on Flickr)