There’s been a lot of talk recently about Zika, both in the Passported offices and in our extended community of parents. And while we’ve read all the articles in the major news sources, there’s something more comforting about talking to a real medical expert. So we called up Dr. Vicki Porges of New York’s Downtown Pediatrics to get her input. Dr. Porges, a fourth-generation family doctor and a mom to two, shared her down-to-earth approach to the now-famous virus as well as travel medicine in general. We feel calmer already.
Should parents be worried about Zika?
The recommendations regarding Zika apply to the travel advisory for women who are pregnant, or trying to become pregnant. There’s no specific caution against travel with children, and we’re not seeing children becoming ill. The scary part, and the reason for all the concern and the emergency situation, is because of babies born with microcephaly and brain damage to women who were infected while pregnant.
Let’s say that I’m not pregnant but this still freaks me out. Should I call you if my child gets sick after we return from an affected region?
Don't need to be alarmed as we always treat what the child looks like, and if the child has mild symptoms and came from one of the listed countries, you should not worry more than if they developed those symptoms here. But it is probably worth mentioning the travel history to your pediatrician. Even if it is Zika, though, this works its way through you within a week, and 80% of people who are infected will never get sick.
Good advice. So for someone who’s headed to the tropics for Spring Break, what precautions should they take?
Take the same precautions as you would to prevent catching any of the other mosquito-born illness. Prevention is the best idea—long, loose-fitting clothing, bug repellent for children over the age of two months (there are safe levels of DEET that can be used), mosquito netting over a crib. Be sure you’re not doing something potentially harmful like putting on sunscreen with bug repellent because sunscreen needs to be reapplied and bug repellent shouldn’t be. I would apply it only in the evening when the bugs come out at dusk. Also, you don’t want to apply repellent under tight-fitting clothing. A fan is also great to have in the room for keeping mosquitos away.
What’s in your go-to bag in terms of meds for traveling with children?
I always bring the basics: Tylenol, Motrin if kids are over six months old, Benadryl in case of an allergic reaction, Neosporin. Hydrocortisone is also a good idea for treating itchy bug bites, especially on children who get really strong local reactions. Tweezers are helpful in case of splinters or tick bites. For children over the age of two who get car sick, Dramamine helps. If you’ll be swimming a lot, throw in some waterproof band-aids and ear-drying drops, which helps prevent outer ear infections. I always bring my own sunscreen because it can be expensive to buy in a resort, and I often can’t find the one I need. [Ed note: check the Downtown Pediatrics website for a list of recommended sunscreens.] And of course hats and sunglasses and refreshing eye drops (not Visine). What I don’t bring, and won’t give to my patients, is antibiotics. If you think your child is sick and in need of antibiotics, you want to know what you’re treating, and they should be seen by a doctor.
Am I crazy to wet wipe the plane seats? Does that help?
I always do, and I would recommend doing the trays as well as the touch screens for movies. I always have Purell and wet wipes with me when I travel.
Any tips for keeping healthy when traveling abroad?
It’s hugely important to wash your hands. That’s really where you get germs. Keep children’s nails short, too, so all that dirt doesn’t get caught under nails. But basically eating well, sleeping well, and being mindful of drinking bottled water if water isn’t great is what you need to do. If the water isn’t reliable where you are, skip raw veggies and fruit where skin can’t be peeled off. I keep packages of nuts or snack bars and turkey jerkey when we’re traveling so if the kids are hungry in a car or plane while we’re en route to somewhere, I have something healthy to offer them.
What’s the most common question you’re asked about traveling with kids?
The big thing is always what medicine to bring, and often if I’ll give them antibiotics. My answer is no. The other is if they can give Immodium to kids with diarrhea. I’ve traveled with it to places like Africa on safari when you now you’ll be sitting for a long time without access to a bathroom, but I wouldn’t give it to a child unless it’s really dire. The side affect can be terrible constipation, and then you’ve got a kid screaming in pain.