Ari Gilmore, MD

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Six Ways to Keep Kids Safe and Healthy on Summer Trips

Originally published June 30, 2016 in The Seattle Times June 29, 2016; by Jillian O'Connor, Seattle Times news producer

School is out, and lots of families are heading out of town. The last thing people want to deal with once they have time off from work and school is illness or an injury.

But being in crowded airports, out at night when the bugs come out, or on the road have a few significant health risks.

Here are some tips on how to make the trip as safe and enjoyable as possible.

–Be careful around water. “For local travel the number 1 risk really is injuries — and that’s actually true for our international travelers as well,” said Ari Gilmore, a physician in family medicine at Pacific Medical Center Beacon Hill.

Water is a huge risk, and parents and kids need to be mindful of making sure kids always wear a life vest, as well as being cautious around cold, fast currents. In some spots, kids can get swept away even if they’re just up to their knees in water, Gilmore noted.

–Beware of skeeters and ticks. It’s a good idea to ward off mosquitoes with a little bug spray, and long sleeves and pants when possible. Mosquitoes “are always a risk,” said Gilmore, who emphasized that scratching the bites and getting an infection can be a problem, too. He recommended having Benadryl or hydrocortisone lotion on hand in order to deal with any itchy bites, if the mosquitoes do get you or your child. To prevent that, he recommends using DEET, as long as you are careful: Don’t spray it in the air near a child, who could end up inhaling it. Instead, use a lotion — or spray a DEET-based insect repellent on your hand at close range, and then rub it onto the skin.

(Note: Zika is not currently considered a risk for children. You can check the CDC’s website for the latest information on the virus.)

–Use sunscreen. Apply and reapply a good UVB- and UVA-blocking sunblock frequently; with littler kids (age 6 and younger), try to minimize sun exposure altogether during peak sun hours — usually 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The risks of too much sun include bad sunburns, sunstroke and possible future skin cancers. Rash guards (swim shirts), hats and 100 percent UV-blocking sunglasses offer additional protection from intense sun and are recommended all summer long by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Seek shade when you can with kids, too.

–Get them vaccinated. “One of the nice things about the standard U.S. vaccine schedule is that kids are usually pretty well prepared for most places,” said Gilmore, noting that hepatitis A and pertussis are fairly prevalent in some other countries. Children vaccinated according to the standard U.S. pediatric schedule will already be well protected from these potentially serious illnesses, said Gilmore.

If you’ll be traveling outside the country, check the AAP’s recommendations for travel to that region. And it’s a good idea check in with a travel medicine clinic, too, in case more shots are needed. “Certainly for more adventurous trips, where there may be a risk of malaria, people should see a doctor and go over what is the actual risk in each country,” said Gilmore.

–Keep hands clean. Not washing your hands is one of the top dangers at the airport — a place full of other travelers in which there’s a very high chance of picking up a contagious illness. At restaurants, Gilmore recommends using the bathroom early on to make sure there is plenty of warm water and soap available in the restroom. If you can’t find enough soap and warm running water to wash your hands well, the chances are good that the food preparers can’t, either.

–Buckle up. If you’re in another country, it is possible you’ll be in a vehicle with substandard seat belt protection. Do your best to make sure your kids have a seat belt or safety setup comparable to the ones found here in the United States. Safety first.

Dr. Gilmore practices Family Medicine at PacMed's Beacon Hill clinic.