Travel-related illnesses and injuries can be reduced with prevention and preparation. Many children and teens travel internationally. Some study abroad in Europe, while others may visit family, go on safari in Africa or do medical mission work in South America. Children can be exposed to illnesses commonly found in geographic regions where they travel but rarely found in the United States.
Parents who plan to travel overseas with their children should consult a pediatric travel medicine specialist to learn about how to:
- Prepare for travel out of the country
- Avoid exposure to germs that may cause illness
- Use preventive medicines
- Receive specialized travel vaccines
- Update routine vaccines
- Stay medically safe while traveling
- Appropriately access healthcare resources while traveling
Preparation and pre-travel counseling with a travel medicine specialist is recommended six weeks before the travel departure date. Preventive medicines (especially against malaria) and vaccinations are necessary for many children and family members who are traveling. When traveling to countries known to have malaria and other mosquito-transmitted diseases, children should appropriately use an effective insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin.
Common travel-related illnesses include:
- Diarrheal disease. Most travel-related diarrheal diseases are acquired by consuming contaminated water and food.
- Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. It is usually acquired by consuming contaminated water and food.
- Malaria. This is a condition caused by a parasite and acquired by the bite of an infected mosquito.
- Dengue fever. This is a viral illness acquired through the bite of a mosquito.
- Parasitic infections. This group of infectious diseases can be acquired by eating contaminated food, swimming or wading in infested water or walking barefoot on the ground or beach sand.
- Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis (TB) is a condition caused by bacteria that usually attacks the lungs. It is transmitted person-to-person after prolonged stays abroad.
- Typhoid fever. This bacterial illness spreads through contaminated food and water or close contact with an infected person.
- Yellow fever. This virus spreads to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito.
- Japanese encephalitis. This virus is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable encephalitis.
- Leptospirosis. This bacterial infection is mostly acquired by contact with contaminated fresh water such as waterfalls, ponds and lakes. The urine of infected animals contains the bacteria.
- Chikungunya. This viral illness spreads to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.
- Rabies. This deadly virus spreads to people from the saliva of infected animals, usually from an animal bite.
The symptoms of travel-related infectious diseases vary and may include:
- Persistent diarrhea
- Skin conditions or rash
- Respiratory infections
- Chronic cough
If a child returns home with symptoms suggestive of a travel-related infection, have them see a pediatric travel medicine specialist.
Diagnosis of Travel-Associated Infections
Travel-related infectious diseases are often hard to diagnose and often require evaluation by an infectious disease specialist. Infectious disease doctors at Riley at IU Health will evaluate your child’s symptoms and ask where your child has traveled.
Common screening tests may include:
- A complete blood count (CBC) blood test, which measures the number and type of white blood cells in the blood
- A stool specimen to test pathogens (bacteria, viruses or other microorganisms that can cause an illness)
- Blood specimens to test for malaria and other parasites
- Blood specimens for antibody tests for various germs, such as hepatitis viruses
Treatment for children who have travel-related illnesses will vary depending on the specific illness or syndrome. Once a diagnosis is made, your child's doctor will review all treatment options with you in detail. There are specific medicines to treat malaria, parasitic infections and travel-associated diarrhea.
Many travel-associated bacterial infections will require treatment with an antibiotic. If your child has a viral infection such as dengue or chikungunya, the doctor will just recommend supportive therapy. However, your child will need to be monitored for complications. Respiratory infections caused by influenza may at times require antiviral treatment.
If your child has a fever, it may be managed with medicines that reduce fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. A feverish child returning from a tropical country needs to be seen by a healthcare provider soon after return. While most feverish illnesses are uncomplicated viral infections, conditions such as malaria and typhoid fever can have serious complications and require prompt diagnosis and treatment. These children need to be evaluated by a specialist familiar with travel-related infections.
Some travel-related infections may require inpatient care.
Key Points to Remember
Key Points to Remember
- Travel-related illnesses and injuries can be reduced with prevention and preparation.
- Parents who plan to travel overseas with their children should consult a pediatric travel medicine specialist six weeks before their departure date.
- The symptoms of travel-related infectious diseases vary and may include diarrhea, rash, fever, respiratory infection and chronic cough.
- Travel-related infectious diseases are often hard to diagnose and often require evaluation by an infectious disease specialist.
- Treatment for children who have travel-related illnesses will vary depending on the specific illness.
Support Services & Resources
Support Services & Resources
Visit the websites below to learn more about travel-related infections and how to prevent illness when traveling abroad.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
This government website provides in-depth explanations of travel-related infections, including diarrheal illnesses, dermatologic conditions, malaria and respiratory disorders.
This website provides important, up-to-date information about international travel and health.
In addition to our primary hospital location at the Academic Health Center in Indianapolis, IN, we have convenient locations to better serve our communities throughout the state.