What should I do if my child has a fever on holiday?
A fever on holiday can be caused by an infection or heat stroke (if you're somewhere hot). Here’s our guide on things to pack in case it happens and what to do if your baby gets a high temperature while you're away
If your baby gets a fever – a high temperature of at least 38C – while you are away on holiday, it can be especially worrying being far from home and without your usual medical support.
But with a bit of pre-planning, a fever needn’t spoil your holiday. Read advice from a GP, and tips from parents, so you know what to do if your child has a fever on holiday.
How will I know what has caused my child’s fever when we are on holiday?
A fever is the body’s natural reaction to fighting off an infection, so there could be numerous causes for your baby’s high temperature.
MFM’s favourite GP, Dr Philippa Kaye, explains: “It is very broad as there are lots of illnesses the world over.”
As well as viral infections like colds, flu, ear infections, or even illnesses like chicken pox, a fever can be caused by a bacterial infection.
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This could come from another person carrying the infection, or by eating food or having drinks that are contaminated, so it’s always a good idea to make sure food is well cooked and hasn’t been left out, as well as checking advice on drinking water in the local area you are staying.
Travelling in a confined space like a plane or train with lots of other people means there might be an increased chance of being exposed to a bug, but it’s very unlikely this would cause a serious illness.
Illnesses like malaria – which is picked up from infected mosquitoes – can also cause a fever, but this is very rare and can be protected against with the right medication.
If you are on holiday in a hot country, it’s possible your child could have heat exhaustion or heat stroke, as her fever means the body has overheated and can’t cool down.
What should I do to avoid my baby getting a fever on holiday?
Dr Philippa advises allowing plenty of time to find out from a medical professional whether you need travel jabs or specific medication for your holiday destination.
“Before you travel check if you and your child need travel immunisations and if you need anti-malarial medication,” she says.
“Allow enough time to do this as some vaccines need to be given a period of time prior to travel to be effective.
“Your local GP surgery may offer travel advice and vaccinations (which may incur a charge) or private travel clinics are available.”
Taking care with food while you’re away and making sure water is safe to drink is a good bet while you are on your break, to help avoid stomach bugs.
What should I pack in case my baby gets a fever on holiday?
We’ve all been in a pharmacy or supermarket somewhere other than home, struggling to decipher packaging – or trying to explain to a pharmacist exactly what’s wrong, so it makes sense to pack familiar medicines you might need.
Medicines like infant paracetamol come in bottles and single dose sachets, which are ideal for popping in hand luggage or your changing bag.
If your baby does have a fever, you can help bring down their temperature with paracetamol every 4-6hrs up to a maximum 4 times in 24hrs. Ibuprofen can be given every 6-8 hours up to a maximum 3 times in 24 hours, but the two medicines should not be combined, says latest NHS guidance.
Babies of 2-3 months can be given infant paracetamol, but should be given a maximum of two doses, at least 4 hours apart.
Packing some familiar comforters can help your little one feel better if they are under the weather, while it can also be worth stowing their favourite cup or bottle in the suitcase too, to make sure they stay hydrated.
A reliable thermometer is an essential bit of parenting kit to take along, as you want to know you’ll be able to monitor your baby’s temperature accurately.
Could my child have overheated in the sun if they have a fever?
Those long, sunny days on the beach or around the pool are so much fun but overheating in the sun – also known heat exhaustion or the more serious heat stroke – is a risk if you’re in a hot climate.
And it’s not just if you’re jetting off to Tenerife or Tobago that heat stroke can affect your child.
She can still overheat on a staycation in good old Blighty – especially during the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest.
“Heat exhaustion is a condition where you have become too hot and this tends to get better as the child cools down,” explains Dr Philippa.
“The treatment is to move inside or to the shade, drink cool drinks, apply cool liquid to the skin and use a fan to try to cool down.
“If symptoms worsen it can turn into heat stroke which can be dangerous.”
How can you tell if it's heat stroke rather than fever caused by an illness?
It can be tricky to tell if your child has heat stroke or a fever caused by an infection or illness, but there are a few signs to look out for.
“Symptoms of heat exhaustion are easily confused with those of a fever,” says Dr Philippa.
“In fact, having a fever over 38C is a sign of heat exhaustion, along with fatigue, feeling sweaty and thirsty.
“With heat exhaustion, the symptoms and fever resolve as the child cools down, whereas with a fever relating to an infection the fever tends to be there for longer and they may have other symptoms such as a cough, runny nose or diarrhoea.”
How can I keep my child cool when we are on holiday in the heat?
Unless you are planning to spend your sunshine holiday inside an air-conditioned building, chances are that your child (and you!) is going to get hot.
But there are ways to try to stay cool: stay in the shade as much as possible, remove clothes and make sure to stay well hydrated with lots of water or regular feeds.
Stay out of the sun at its hottest time, between 11am and 3pm, and the NHS suggests you can try sprinkling water on clothes or skin to cool down.
If your child has a fever, you can put a fan in her room, says Dr Philippa, though make sure it isn’t blowing directly onto her.
When should I contact a doctor or go to hospital if my child has a fever on holiday?
Like at home, it depends on the age of your child, how high her temperature is, and how long she’s been ill for, as well as any other symptoms.
A high temperature will need medical attention if your child is tiny, or the fever is particularly high.
If your baby is less than 3 months old and has a temperature of 38C (101F) or higher, or if your baby is 3 to 6 months old with a temperature of 39C (102F) or higher then it’s time to get medical advice.
Keep an eye out for any rashes that accompany the fever, and get medical attention if your little one has had a fever for more than 5 days.
It’s very rare that a fever could be a serious illness but, as Dr Philippa points out: “As to what to do when you are away, it is the same as if you are at home.
“If your child is floppy, lethargic or more unwell please seek medical advice urgently.”
However, after her daughter’s temperature came down a bit, she was given the all-clear to travel.
How can I get access to healthcare abroad?
Access to healthcare abroad depends on which country you are travelling to, so it’s always a good plan to sort out appropriate travel insurance before you head off on holiday.
While the UK is currently part of the European Union, if you are travelling within the EU, you are entitled to a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), previously known as an E111.
“An EHIC card entitles you to reduced cost or free state (not private) emergency care when you are abroad,” explains Dr Philippa.
“But depending on the country you may need to pay upfront and be reimbursed, and each person travelling will need to have a card.”
You can apply online for a European Health Insurance Card.
If it’s a real emergency then calling the number 112 from a landline or mobile anywhere in the EU will put you through to emergency services.
Other countries can differ enormously. While medical care in the US is high quality, it’s really important to be covered by travel insurance so you don’t get hit with a large bill for any treatment.
Meanwhile, countries such as Australia and New Zealand, Gibraltar, Turks and Caicos Islands, Jersey and Montenegro have reciprocal healthcare agreements with the UK, which means you can get access to some medical services for free or reduced cost.
Check out the latest list of countries which have this reciprocal agreement on the NHS website, but always do your research before you travel to check exactly what is covered, and take out private insurance too, as the range of treatments might be restricted.
MFMer Anonymousmumdrum took her son on holiday to France when he was 8 months and Morocco at 10 months: “He was on our travel insurance so if he got ill then he would have gone to a medical centre over there,” she tells us.
“If you are concerned about your child’s health then always seek medical advice,” says Dr Philippa.
Is it ok to go to the beach or go swimming if my child has a fever?
“Although your child doesn’t have to stay indoors, it would be reasonable and preferable to stay out of the sun and in the shade to try and keep cool,” advises Dr Philippa.
She also says it’s best to avoid swimming as the fever means that your child is fighting an infection and needs rest and fluids.
“They may not have enough energy to swim or at least to enjoy it, so stay out of the pool while they have a fever,” she comments.
Are there any circumstances when you shouldn't fly if your baby has a fever?
Do look out for any symptoms other than fever, like your child being listless, or signs of illness like a rash, or dehydration, alongside the high temperature.
“If your child has a fever and is unwell in herself then she should not fly,” says Dr Philippa. “If you are not sure, contact your GP."
Magda Ibrahim is a freelance writer who has written for publications including The Times and Sunday Times, The Sun, Time Out, and the London Evening Standard, as well for MadeForMums.
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