Q. We're thinking of booking an adventurous holiday with our energetic teenagers in the Central American jungle. Aside from getting vaccinations beforehand, should we buy a first-aid kit containing needles and syringes? E Buckthorp, via email
A. When taking the family on an active overseas holiday, it is worth considering what could go wrong. Systems vary from one country to the next, so accessing health care won't be as easy as at home. Indeed, it may be necessary to travel some distance to reach a competent medical facility. The moments immediately following an accident, or the morning after being awake all night with an ill child, are not the times to realise you don't know where to start looking for help. Arrange travel insurance that is underwritten by a reputable medical- assistance company such as travelandinsure.com. It will offer over-the-phone advice on the nearest facility, and sometimes send out paramedics to bring casualties home; insurance through bloodcare.org.uk will provide you with a paramedic to infuse screened, safe blood.
There are advantages in booking through a reputable operator, possibly with offices in Europe or North America, since its staff should be able to help through any crisis and will understand its duty of care. Even so, it is important to be alert to the fact that, in some destinations, you and your family may be encouraged to try activities you many not feel competent to attempt.
Think about whether you'll take your own safety equipment, and what should be in your first-aid kit. The kit doesn't need to be large and you don't need needles and syringes. An active holiday in a warm climate will need a good, strong insect repellent – those based on 20-50 per cent Deet (diethyl toluamide, a retail example being Jungle Formula Extra Strength) are best. Standard Jungle Formula (which contains the next best chemical alternative, known as IR3535) is good for anyone with eczema or broken or sensitive skin. Both are available from Roaming Fox Travel Accessories (0845 652 5314; roamingfox.co.uk).
If you are unfortunate enough to be in a place that is very buggy during the day, you'll need a good supply of sunscreen SPF 15-25, which you allow to dry for 30 minutes before applying repellent on top.
Travelling parents will be all too familiar with treating minor scrapes and bumps, but it is important to be aware that in hot climates, grazes and itching mosquito bites can rapidly turn into skin infections. Savlon Dry Antiseptic iodine spray is perfect for cleaning scrapes and bumps. More impressive wounds may need to be closed with Steri-Strips – and applying them will reduce the blood lost, which calms everyone down.
Fever makes children – and adults, too – fractious, so paracetamol should be packed. Families travelling via the US can buy some child-friendly melt-in-the-mouth acetaminophen (what Americans call paracetamol). It can be challenging to drink enough when arriving in a hot and humid environment, so it may be worth packing drinks powders such as Nesquik to encourage youngsters to imbibe. Travellers are often concerned about water quality, and this is only likely to be an issue when outside Europe and North America. The best method of sterilising water is to boil it, but adding iodine drops is a more convenient method.
Take fluids from safe sources such as bottled drinks, hot drinks and soups. Each family member should drink enough to generate at least three good bladders' full of pale urine in 24 hours.
The writer is a GP and author of a memoir of trekking with three small children, 'A Glimpse of Eternal Snows' (Pier 9/Murdoch, £9.99).
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