Is your kid fit to travel?

PHOTO: YOUNG PARENTS
PHOTO: YOUNG PARENTS

Eveline Gan finds out how to prep your child for a vacation

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.

This article first appeared in Young Parents magazine. Young Parents, published by SPH Magazines, is available in both digital and print formats. Log on to www.youngparents.com.sg/subscription to subscribe and for more stories.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'Is your kid fit to travel?'. Print Edition | Subscribe