When it's summertime, families across the country flock to theme parks and resorts. These kid-friendly escapes are ideal for family vacations, but their densely packed crowds also make them breeding grounds for infections.
This past winter, 125 people from seven states caught measles during an outbreak that started at California's Disneyland theme park. Although it's rare to catch a serious infection like measles at a tourist destination, your family can still get sick.
"You're much more likely to come into contact with other viruses, like the common cold," says Gail Shust, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital's Kravis Children's Hospital.
In close quarters, bacteria and viruses jump easily from person to person. A single uncovered sneeze can shoot 2,000 to 5,000 germ-filled droplets as far as 20 feet. Still, disease worries shouldn't derail your summer travel plans.
"I don't think people need to be any more panicked about traveling than they were before, but I think they do need to be more aware and prepared," Shust says.
If you've hesitated to get your kids vaccinated because you're nervous about risks, talk to your pediatrician.
"It's part of our job to help parents understand why vaccines are important and how they work," Shust says. "And hopefully we can relieve some of those fears."
When your travel plans take you to distant shores, crowded conditions aren't your only concern. Diseases like yellow fever and typhoid aren't common in the U.S. but they may be prevalent at your destination. Check with your doctor to see if your kids will need vaccines that aren't on the regular childhood schedule. You might also need to give them medicine ahead of time to protect against diseases like malaria.
Once you've landed, your family's biggest defense against germs is basic hygiene.
"The single best thing people can do for infection control is to wash their hands," Shust says. Soap and warm water are ideal, when they're available, but if you're on the road, hand sanitizer works well, too. Make sure your kids rub it into their hands for at least 15 seconds.
And what if your children are the germy ones? "I understand these are your summer plans and you've been making these plans for months, but you need to think about not getting on a plane -- especially if somebody has a fever," Shust says.
Ask Your Pediatrician
1. Are my kids up to date on all their recommended vaccines?
2. Will they need any special vaccines or medicines before we travel?
3. Which over-the-counter and prescription medicines should we take with us?
4. What should we do if the kids get sick while we're away?
5. What's the best way to reach you?
Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."