Is your child allergic to whatever's in the air?If so, do you worry that a trip might bring unforeseeable reactions to a host of new allergens?Well, don't. According to Dr. Richard Honsinger, clinical professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico, you develop allergies to what you're exposed to regularly—and it may be years before symptoms show up. So call the National Allergy Bureau's Pollen and Mold Hotline (800/976-5536) to get the pollen counts for your destination, pack the usual medications—and hit the road.
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"Most people don't pay attention to their health until something goes wrong," says Dr. Eric L. Weiss, director of Stanford University's travel health clinic. But you may want to indulge in a little planning when it comes to your kids. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site (www.cdc.gov/travel) for vaccine recommendations. Shoreland's www.tripprep.com posts regional health advisories from the U.S. State Department and lists common diseases by country, along with tips on avoiding them. Don't forget your pediatrician's E-mail address, so that you can more easily consult him or her while you're away.
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cooties in the sky
As airlines pack passengers in tighter than ever, planes are becoming airborne petri dishes. Of course, close quarters have always provided a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. But while you may hear reports of E. coli on airplane cushions and salmonella on tray tables, don't panic. "Such microscopic doses don't cause any harm," says Dr. Richard Wenzel, professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. The real culprits: airborne germs that can linger hours after an infected person has left the plane. Below, four offenders and how to avoid them.
Should you worry?Cold germs are stubborn things, attaching themselves to blankets and pillows, so it can be hard not to pick up something from someone. Most airlines change pillows and blankets only once a day and don't provide clean ones for every flight.
What you can do Wash hands frequently and bring along antibacterial soap or moist towelettes to keep your kids' hands clean. (Children under five touch their mouth, eyes, or nose at least once every three minutes!) Also, use airline pillows and blankets only if they're still in their plastic wraps.
Should you worry?The flu is such a common bug that people often travel despite their illness. What's more, the low humidity of cabin air has been shown to foster its spread. In one case, 41 of 114 passengers came down with the flu after traveling on two military CD-9's from Puerto Rico to Key West.
What you can do Because flu viruses remain in the air for hours, they're hard to escape. Children with asthma are particularly vulnerable. Your best defense is a good offense: if your child travels frequently, talk to your doctor about a flu shot. It can provide up to 70 percent protection.
Should you worry?Since a vaccine was introduced in 1963, measles has been much less prevalent. But if your kids haven't had all their shots, they could contract this highly contagious disease on an international flight—especially one to parts of South America or Africa, where rates of infection are still high.
What you can do Before you go, check that your kids' shots are up to date. (Children need one dose of the vaccine at 12 to 15 months, and a booster either between four and six years of age or between 11 and 12.) Adults who were immunized as children needn't worry.
Should you worry?There is a small but real risk of contracting TB on flights of eight hours or more. While the World Health Organization has investigated only seven cases in the past decade, just under 2 billion people are carriers, and your seatmate may be one of them.
What you can do Don't be shy about asking to switch seats if the passenger next to you has a jacking cough—one of the most obvious symptoms of TB. If you're not sure whether you or your child has been exposed, get tested and talk to your doctor about preventative treatment.