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Advice: Healthy Family Travel: First Aid Tips

We had just checked into a motel in the rolling Napa Valley, just north of San Francisco, and the kids were already splashing off the summer heat in the outdoor pool, when I happened to open the local newspaper to check out the area's activities. This is one travel habit I can't break; I like to soak up the local flavor by checking out who's castigating who in print, or which town group is fighting for new street names. But this paper's editorial page was all about Lyme disease, how one local four-year-old had been crippled for months after a bite a local tick, and what the town fathers were planning to do about it. Leaving my husband to supervise the kids, I immediately headed for the front desk. "Are there a lot of ticks around here?" I casually asked the receptionist. "Oh, it's a big problem," she said, squinting at me through her glasses and flicking away some ashes from her cigarette. "They say there's more ticks here than anywhere else in the country, outside of Long Island that is."

She may not have been correct, but that was enough for me. Travelling with kids is difficult enough without adding a potential case of Lyme disease. I knew that in areas prevalent with the little creatures who travel on the backs of deer mice and deer, kids were supposed to be covered from neck to toe even in hot weather and checked regularly. If you found a tick embedded in a kid's skin, you were supposed to pull it out backwards with tweezers so that both body and head came out intact. I did not relish this type of regular anxious checking and surgical removal on a three-day "relaxing" break from the big city. We rounded up the kids, checked out of the motel and drove south to Santa Cruz where we had a great time, riding the ocean-side roller coaster and eating gobs of saltwater taffy. Not a tick in sight.

It's inevitable that even with the best of research and first aid kits, kids are going to get sick on holiday, sometimes at the worst possible time. Two years ago, as we arrived in Zurich to fly back to Canada, our eldest suddenly came down with an unexplained 104-degree fever. After an emergency trip by taxi to an after-hours doctor in a remote suburb of the city and a visit to the Children's Hospital (where none of the nurses on duty spoke English), I heard the dreaded words from a doctor, "You know, Madame, your son may not be able to fly home tomorrow." Luckily, at the last hour, the fever broke and he was given permission to board the plane. Lucky too, that we had taken out our usual medical insurance; Swiss hospitals, strep tests in doctor's offices, and medication definitely don't come cheap!

Thankfully, there are some precautions parents can take to minimize health problems on vacation:

FIRST AID: We keep a first aid kit in the glove compartment of the car and it has saved our anxiety and our kids' skinned knees on many trips. Stock items are Polysporin ointment and funny bandaids (Bugs or Big Bird), scissors, gauze, tweezers (for how many splinters from cottage floors?), ear drops for swimmer's ear pain, and acetaminophen for sudden onset of fever.You could also include a zinc ointment, calamine lotion for poison ivy or itchy insect bites, a thermometer, an ice pack for sprains or fingers caught in car doors and Ipecec syrup to unduce vomiting when your toddler has eaten a poisonous berry (as one of ours once did).

SOLAR POWER: Summer vacation often means easy sunburns, especially when kids are in the water and even when they're wearing a wet T-shirt. And a bad sunburn can ruin a vacation for a kid (as well as increase the possibility of skin cancer in later life). Sunscreens are not recommended for babies under six months of age; the ingredients can be absorbed into their system. We once saw a great solution on the beach at Bar Harbour, Maine. Parents had turned a playpen upside down and placed it over their babe playing on a blanket. He was fully protected from the sun and they could even go for a swim while he napped. Older kids should keep reapplying a PABA-free lotion with an SPF of 25 to 30 about every two hours. If a kid does get a burn, our local pharmacist recommends cool, wet compresses and applications of aloe vera lotion, although do a test patch first; some kids can have allergic reactions.

FINDING A DOCTOR: The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (1287 St. Clair Ave. W; Tel: 416-652-0137) publish a booklet listing doctors English-speaking doctors from Algeria to Zimbabwe who are on call day and night. They also distribute immunization info. If you're in Europe and can't find a doctor, try the pharmacy; these trained professionals have helped us over the years with kids' teething remedies, natural laxatives, and sore throats.





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