You're on an overseas flight with your young child, who starts complaining of fever and chills. You ask the flight attendant for help, maybe some pain relievers. Will the plane's first aid kit have what your child needs?
Not likely, new research finds. While children account for 16% of medical emergencies on airplanes, few first aid kits have child-specific remedies for such emergencies.
Most cases handled by crew
In the study, researchers analysed more than 11 000 cases of children who required emergency medical attention on 77 international airlines between January 2015 and October 2016.
The most common medical conditions were the same ones responsible for many children's visits to emergency departments, including nausea and vomiting (nearly 34%), fever or chills (22%), allergic reaction (5.5%), abdominal pain (about 5%) and stomach flu (4.5%).
Most of those cases (nearly 87%) were handled by flight crew members, while doctors were asked to help in about 9% of the cases. In about 16% of the cases, the child required further care after the plane landed. Only 0.5% of flights were diverted to a nearby airport so a child could receive emergency care, according to the report.
But despite the fact that most cases involved common ailments that could be easily treated, few on-board first aid kits had child versions of therapies that would help, such as liquid forms of pain relievers or allergy medications, the Duke University researchers found.
Carry your own medications
US airlines' first aid kits are required to include asthma inhalers, antihistamines and aspirin, but the medications are in pill form – which many children can't swallow – and/or in adult dosages, according to the study published online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
"Both airlines and parents should be aware of the most common illnesses and be prepared to deal with them," said study author Dr Alexandre Rotta, chief of the division of paediatric critical care medicine at Duke.
In 2018, US lawmakers ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to assess whether airline first aid kits have the minimum contents to meet children's needs. This study could provide a shopping list for stocking the first aid kits, Rotta said.
"This is needed information to help inform discussion and policies affecting children on airlines and what should be included in the on-board medical kits," Rotta said in a Duke news release. "But for right now, if you are a parent traveling with a child, we recommend you carry on the medications you think your child might need."
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