Top 3 Tips for Keeping Kids Well During Travel continued...
Practice good hand hygiene. You know the drill: Washing hands often, especially before meals, is the No. 1 way to prevent illness, at home or while traveling. Of course, you should help small children wash hands and teach older kids how to wash them thoroughly. Using warm soap and water, lather up and scrub all over for 20 seconds, then rinse and dry. While you're at it, encourage your kids not to put dirty hands -- or other things -- in their mouths.
Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Children should wash their hands with soap and water when they can, but have a sanitizing gel or wipes with at least 60% alcohol available when soap and water aren't. This is especially important in places where it may be difficult to get to a restroom, such as at amusement parks or even on airplanes.
Make sure children rub hand sanitizer all over their hands until dry. If you can see dirt on their hands, however, hand sanitizers won't be enough. Hand sanitizers are dangerous for children if they swallow any, so store them in a bag safely away from small children and supervise their use.
Germ-Fighting Tips for Airplane Travel
Airplanes have gotten a reputation as flying cold-and-flu factories. But it's actually hard to determine just what role they play in making children, or adults, sick during travel, says Jeffrey R. Starke, MD, director of infection control at Texas Children's Hospital, and professor and vice chairman of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
"There's no question that when kids have more contact with other people, they're more likely to get sick," Starke says. "But that can be anywhere where there are lots of people -- including malls, restaurants, or rest stops."
Concerns about airplane germs often focus on air quality. But a 2008 study of cabin-air bacteria in 12 commercial airplanes showed they do not pose a risk for healthy passengers. "Your risk of getting a respiratory infection is higher on a bus or in an airport," Kourtis tells WebMD.
A bigger area of concern is airplane surfaces, some experts say. "The vast majority of infections, including respiratory infections, are passed through contact within a very short distance, not through the air," Starke says.
Consider these measures if you're concerned about airplane germs:
- Sanitize "high touch" areas. Germs linger longer on nonporous materials like plastic. Wipe down surfaces such as tray tables, seat armrests, and lavatory door handles with an alcohol-based wipe or gel before your child uses them. "With the short cleaning time between flights, these areas may not be cleaned and disinfected each time," says Robert Donofrio, PhD, director of the microbiology lab at NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) International.
- Avoid touching restroom surfaces. When washing your child's hands in an airplane or other public restroom, turn off the faucet with a paper towel. Then use another paper towel to dry hands and open the door.
- Bring your own blankets and pillows. If airplane blankets or pillows aren't delivered to you in a package, chances are they've been used. Having a familiar blanket and pillow to curl up with may also make children more comfortable during air travel.
- Drink bottled water. In water quality tests on 158 airplanes in 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered coliform bacteria and E. coli in some water samples. In 2009, the EPA established tougher rules for airplane water. Generally, however, the numbers of food- and water-borne illness from airplane travel are low, according to Starke.
- Ask sick passengers near you to observe cold and flu etiquette. If someone near you isn't covering coughs or sneezes, ask him to. "It may be awkward, but you can -- and I certainly would -- encourage the person to practice good hygiene," Starke says. And you should do the same: Make sure your child coughs or sneezes into a tissue or her elbow and washes her hands afterward.
- Put distance between your child and sick passengers. Ask the flight attendant if you and your child can move to another row. If that's not possible, take the seat next to the sick person instead of putting your child there. You're likely to be more conscious of what you touch and how to prevent infection.