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Travelling with Kids: Bitten by the Bangkok bug

Should our son be given a Japanese Encephalitis (JE) jab before flying out to Bangkok for our annual holiday?

This summer brings our annual holiday in Bangkok. With it comes the stress of having to decide how many clothes to pack per person, explain to my husband that we cannot take along 15kg of camera gear, and stop Calvin, our 10-year-old, from sneaking his menagerie of toy animals into the suitcases.

This year, I have one more thing to worry about: should our son be given a Japanese Encephalitis (JE) jab before flying out to Bangkok? The dilemma arose when we recently made a routine visit to his paediatrician and casually mentioned our summer plans.

Calvin, who was born in Bangkok and therefore immediately qualified for Thailand's vaccination programme for children, was administered the requisite three JE doses by the time his third birthday came round.

I didn't question it then. Thailand has had a few outbreaks in the (distant) past and, even though the mosquito-borne disease doesn't usually occur in urban areas, it seemed like a sensible thing to do, especially to a new, sleep-deprived mother who jumped every time her baby sneezed.

When Calvin turned six, we moved to Oman, started our annual tradition of visiting Thailand every year, and promptly forgot all about JE - it does not occur in the Middle East and, according to the paediatrician at the excellent Thai Nakarin Hospital in Bangkok, where Calvin was born, antibodies to the virus persist for several years after primary immunisation.

Calvin has fond memories of the hospital, mostly because we ended every visit with a trip to the surprisingly good food court in the basement for delicious noodle soup with fish dumplings. It helped dry up post-jab tears in no time.

Now in Abu Dhabi, faced with the JE question again, I was hesitant to sign the form, although Calvin's doctor seemed keen.

"He might not have the immunity any more," she pointed out. "Better safe than sorry, don't you think? We don't stock the vaccine, but I can order it a couple of weeks before you travel. "

"But it's Bangkok!" I protested, proud of myself keeping my parental anxiety under control. "We're not going to be in a rural, mosquito-ridden area."

"His legs did have their fair share of mosquito bites when we used to live there," said my husband, who, I like to believe, was trying to be helpful.

But, with still a few months to go before we fly out, there's no rush to decide. Calvin, though, says he wants the jab - in Bangkok. It hasn't occurred to him that it would be too late by then. All he's thinking about is the wonderful noodle soup he'll get to tuck into afterwards.


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