Mr Marcus Gan learnt the hard way how important it is to cover all bases when travelling with kids. His son, Mouyi, came down with a serious lung infection during a vacation in Australia two years ago.
"It started with a cough and a blocked nose. By the third day, he could not breathe and was so lethargic. We never expected the weather to be so bitingly cold and were not prepared to deal with it at all," says the 31-year-old chef.
Mouyi, then aged three, was hospitalised for four days at a private hospital there, where he racked up a $5,000 medical bill. "It was my worst and most expensive holiday but, luckily, my son was fine and the hospital bills were covered by travel insurance," said Mr Gan.
To avoid such a situation, experts share tips on how to prep your little ones for travel, and what to do if they fall ill while overseas.
GET THE RIGHT SHOTS
Visit the doctor at least six weeks before your trip to ensure that your kid gets the correct vaccinations, said Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, a specialist in paediatrics and consultant at Raffles Children's Centre.
Infectious disease physician Leong Hoe Nam, of Rophi Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, added that it takes time for immunity to kick in, and some jabs - like hepatitis A - require a few shots. Besides keeping up to date with the routine vaccinations on the National Childhood Immunisation Programme schedule, consider optional shots, too, suggested Dr Chan Poh Chong, head and senior consultant at the division of general ambulatory paediatrics and adolescent medicine at National University Hospital (NUH).
In general, if you are travelling to areas where sanitation and hygiene standards are not up to scratch, opt for hepatitis A and typhoid shots.
Kids going on a winter holiday - for instance, to Australia during June or the United States for a year-end vacation - should have the flu jab, Dr Chan advised.
Pencil in a yellow-fever shot if you are heading to exotic destinations, such as Africa and South America, as well as the meningococcal vaccine for Sub-Saharan Africa and Saudi Arabia.
KEEP HIM HEALTHY
Letting your child stay up late and dragging him through crowded malls to get some last-minute travel essentials may not be a good idea.
Instead, make sure he has enough rest and exercise, as well as a well-balanced diet. Doing so helps to improve his immunity, said Dr Chan of NUH.
Exercise common sense, too. For instance, avoid crowded places and people who are unwell. Good hygiene practices - such as washing hands before a meal - can also minimise the risk of your child falling ill before a trip, Dr Chan added.
To avoid jet lag, adjust his sleep schedule two to three days before the trip and keep him active outdoors or in a brightly lit room during the day, Dr Sinnathamby suggested.
Pack his usual medication. If your child has a medical condition - say asthma or an allergy - ensure that it is stable before you plan a holiday overseas, advised Dr Chan. Always check with your kid's doctor before your flight and ask him to write a refill prescription in case of emergencies.
In your hand luggage, pack his regular prescription, alongside other medications for common ailments such as fever, diarrhoea, mild runny nose, cough and vomiting.
"For example, if your child has asthma, you should ensure that he continues his control medication during the trip. You should also take along rescue medication, like salbutamol, in case of emergencies, especially when weather changes occur or if the hotel room has carpets that might worsen his condition," said Dr Chan.
INSURANCE FOR ASSURANCE
Dr Sinnathamby advised getting travel insurance in case of unforeseen medical expenses. This typically covers medical-related costs, from common incidents such as food poisoning to more serious illness or accidents that may happen during your trip, said Ms Fong Yong Hui, a financial consultant at One Degree Alliance.
Most plans also cover emergency evacuation to a better-equipped hospital and emergency repatriation back to Singapore, in the event of serious medical cases, or when you are in countries with limited medical facilities, said Ms Fong.
"Some travel insurance even provide childcare benefits in the event of a parent's hospitalisation. These may include the costs of travel and accommodation for a relative or friend to accompany the children home," she added.
Some steps to take in case anything happens:
1. Retain proof of travel documents, such as boarding passes and air tickets.
2. Keep a copy of all original receipts or medical bills.
3. Get a copy of any medical reports or certificates.
4. Submit the claim within 30 days of your return.
Oh no, he's sick
Despite your best efforts, your child might still end up falling ill during your trip. For minor ailments, reach into your well-stocked travel first-aid kit and slow down your travel itinerary.
But do this only if you are familiar with the medication and your child's condition. Otherwise, it is best to see a doctor in the country you are in, advised Dr Chan Poh Chong, head and senior consultant at the division of general ambulatory paediatrics and adolescent medicine at National University Hospital.
Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, a specialist in paediatrics and consultant at Raffles Children's Centre, offers tips on how to cope with the top three infections kids get while on a holiday.
SIGNS: He has runny stools and might also vomit.
DO THIS: Keep him well hydrated with an oral rehydration solution. If he has a fever, offer fever medication. Give him easy-to-digest food such as porridge, toast, bananas or apples.
SEE A DOCTOR: If the symptoms do not go away after three days, or if he urinates less, has a fever that will not go down and becomes increasingly tired.
UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT INFECTIONS
SIGNS: Fever, ear ache, throat pain, runny nose and body aches.
DO THIS: Use fever medicine to control temperature spikes, as well as other ailments such as ear ache, throat pain and body aches. Offer plenty of fluids. You can relieve nasal symptoms, such as a runny or blocked nose, with antihistamines.
SEE A DOCTOR: If the fever does not go down or is difficult to bring down, or if your child becomes increasingly lethargic.
SIGNS: Ear ache due to the ear canal becoming inflamed or infected as moisture gets trapped in there. This is common when his ear is repeatedly exposed to water and not dried properly.
DO THIS: Use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to dull the pain. Keep his ears dry. You can prevent this by using ear plugs while swimming and drying his ears afterwards.
SEE A DOCTOR: If the symptoms worsen or do not improve. Your child might need antibiotic ear drops.
This article was first published on June 18, 2015.
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