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Preparations for your Trip to Vietnam

Packing list and medical suggestions for travel to Vietnam.

By Beverly Roeder, DVM, PhD

I am this summary at the request of Children of Peace International (COPI), our sponsor organization to adopt our son from Vietnam (VN). I spent the latter part of June and all of July 1997 in North Vietnam and Bangkok, Thailand, to adopt our son from Phu Tho Province, Viet Tri (very rural area about 100 miles NW of Hanoi). I am a veterinarian (DVM and PhD) with residency training in surgery and medicine, so I am very "in tune" to concerns with infectious diseases beyond my experience in SE Asia. My husband and I also have one genetically-related daughter, so I am really current in childhood illnesses for the past 5.5 years.

Antibiotics for Vietnam Adoption Travel

Many USA pediatricians advise against prescribing an antibiotic to take with you to VN and other international adoption areas due to fear of misuse by untrained parents in treating diseases and also out of ignorance themselves as to the gravity of the situation that exists in these foreign countries. The "medical facilities" if they are present in these regions are poorly equipped, may have little or no access to prescription medications, any Rx medication that is present may have been produced under questionable circumstances regarding formulation, sterility, shelf-life, etc. Since most of the kids in VN have never had any previous antibiotic to treat any illness, the likelihood of sensitivity and the risk of anaphylactic shock from an allergy to the antibiotics is very slim.

Our son was very sick from the very first day he and I met. He had an ascending middle ear infection with a high fever and without the prescription meds that my pediatrician had sent with me, he could have died. After getting him better from this, he also had continued problems and needed lots of oral rehydration for diarrhea and fevers. We used lots of Ibuprofen to help with the fevers which were later confirmed to be due to malaria. The anemia he suffered from was resolved after he was successfully treated for the malaria, but he also has hemoglobin E trait.

Preston is a healthy, happy little boy now who is at least 6 months ahead of schedule on the pediatric assessment charts for developmental skills and abilities so don't think his problems have held him back. With the correct diagnosis and early treatment he has not had any lasting ill effects from any of these medical problems.

Post Adoption Medical Tests for Vietnam Adoption Travel

At any rate, suffice it to say, have your child thoroughly tested for medical problems when you arrive in the USA even if they look healthy - in between bouts of fever due to malaria, Preston, looked pretty normal even though he was very anemic, had elevated liver enzymes, and an enlarged spleen and liver.

Testing should include: blood testing for anemia & parasites, serial fecal & urine exams for parasites, TB testing, HIV, hepatitis B & C, lead, vision & hearing exams, etc. to ensure the child will receive everything he/she needs for optimum development and good health.

Travel Guides, Books and Tapes for Your Vietnam Adoption Trip

Adopt Vietnam provides a summary of Vietnam travel guides. Lonely Planet for Vietnam is a must, but reading about the other books on this website can give you some very useful insight on cultural sensitivity and the local flavor for cities in VN.

Another wonderful website is Karen Muller's Hitchhiking Vietnam. She is writing a book to complement this and I want to get a copy when it is available. Videotapes of Hitchhiking Vietnam are available. I bought the videotape so I could share what VN is like with family, friends, and eventually Preston Timothy when he is older. It is a wonderful video of VN.

Vaccinations for Vietnam Adoption Travel

NO one should go to VN unprepared. This means having the recommended vaccinations and prophylactic medications for yourself as an adoptive parent to help prevent you from contracting some very serious communicable diseases (particularly hepatitis A & B, malaria, typhoid fever, tetanus, diphtheria,and polio).

The best place to go is a tropical diseases institute at a nearby hospital. They will discuss which vaccines you need given your travel plans. The next best thing is your county health department. The following is a summary of information distributed by the CDC of their list of vaccinations to take before going to Vietnam. Ideally, start the vaccination series at least 6 months before your trip to Vietnam.

Definitely get:

Hepatitis A (lifetime protection after completing the series of 2 shots)
Hepatitis B (lifetime protection after completing the series of 3 shots)
Killed polio injection (killed has less risk of side effects, lifetime protection for adult)
Typhoid (oral Salmonella typhi vaccine) (gives 5 years of protection)
Tetanus (I received a DPT - the tetanus needs a booster every 7-10 years)

Ask your physician if you should also have:

Cholera (get info. from doctor)
Rabies (probably not needed with adoptions if avoid stray animals)
Japanese encephalitis (lasts 2 years after a series of 3 shots - I didn't receive this but sprayed myself daily with children's "OFF" (4.25% DEET) to repel mosquitoes and always slept in mosquito netting when in a rural setting - also do in Bangkok, Thailand.

Send for Texas Medical Kit for your adopted child's needs.

Medical Kit for Adults
(some borrowed from Karen Muller's website)

Anti-malaria tablets : Vietnam has chloroquine-resistant malaria. Get an Rx for Larium (mefloquine) and start one week before trip, continues weekly during the trip, and for two weeks after return to USA.
Motion sickness medications : Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) tablets are good and also bring Bonine (meclizine) which also helps for the side-effect of dizziness that some people experince when taking malaria-prevention drugs. Both are antiemetics (anti-vomiting drugs).
Band Aids : Get the neosporin impregnated bandaids and also bring various sizes.
Gauze bandages/adhesive tape : Good for larger wounds and particularly for burns or some blisters.
Waterless skin disinfectants : Good for washing hands when no clean water is available. (Purell, Rite Aid Instant Hand Sanitizer)
Moleskin : Good for chafe spots or blisters, particularly on the feet.
Tweezers : Get the kind with sharp tips for extracting splinters or removal of ticks.
Scissors : For cutting adhesive tape, thread, string, etc. A Swiss army pocketknife with scissors is invaluable.
Antibiotic ointment : Very important for keeping cuts from getting infected. Critical if you get burned. Neosporin and silvadene cream are very handy. Use baby wipes to help cleanse the wound then bandage with ointment.
Betadine : Iodine-based disinfectant for scrubbing out wounds.
Imodium A/D : Anti-diarrheal medicine (non-prescription).
Pepto-Bismal : Less potent anti-diarrheal medication but good for indigestion.
Lomotil : Anti-diarrheal medicine by prescription only.
Reydration salts : Prepackaged, powdered GatorAde or electrolytes are ideal (can get at REI). Ibuprofen/aspirin : For aches and pains. (Remember that these are blood thinners so if you have an injury you will increase both bleeding and possibly swelling.)
Antibiotics : oral trimethoprim-sulfa and Floxin are good to have on hand.
Anti-fungal powder : Foot rot and jock itch are significant problems. Lotrimin AF is a good over-the-counter product in liquid, cream and powder forms.
Antihistamine : Benadryl is good for allergic histamine release blockade.
Mouthwash : Useful for oral ulcers, sore throats, and also topical disinfectant if nothing else is available.
Toothpaste : Good oral hygiene is critical.
Syringes and needles : If you need an injection then at least your hypodermic will be sterile.
Q-tips : Good for applying antibiotic ointments to wounds.
Eyeglasses, spare pair : Also bring a small screw-driver to tighten eyeglass screws - is available with Swiss army pocketknife.
Dental floss : Maintain good dental hygiene and this lightweight, strong thread has many uses and is reasonably bacteria-free.
Tissues : Individually plastic-wrapped packages of tissues.
Sunscreen : Best to get sunblock with at least UV 30 protection.
Insect repellent : This is actually as important as the malaria tablets, when properly combined with long sleeves and a mosquito net. I used the children's strength of "OFF" (4.25% DEET) daily as a hair and body spray with no toxic effects.
Chapstick or lip balm such as Balmex
Iodine tablets : Iodize your water if you can't boil it. It may taste horrid but it beats a dose of amoebic dysentery. (Chlorine tablets do not kill giardia and amoebic cysts). If you drop in the tablets and let them sit for an hour or two (depending on the tablets) you can reduce the dosage by half.
Vitamins : Calcium and vitamin C deprivation in your diet may be a problem while in Vietnam - bring a good multivitamin and either Tums or a chewable Calcium supplement.
Water filters : In lieu of tablets you can bring a water purification system. Good ones are expensive and almost all are heavy. Make sure they filter out giardia/amoeba cycts (some of them add iodine to do this).
Tampax & sanitary napkins : Sanitary napkins can also serve as a good wound dressing. Thermometer.
Prescription medicines . Bring a full supply of all your prescription medicines. Don't expect to find any particular medication in Vietnam.
Crazy glue : Good for gluing cuts shut once they've dried out a little.
Newskin : You spray this over cuts and burns and it acts like a flexible bandage.
Ace bandage or VetWrap : Good to hold medicated gauze or Telfa pads over a wound. Rubber gloves (sterile or non-sterile exam gloves)
Eye wash : You may also want an antibiotic ophthalmic ointment or drops for eye infections, especially if you wear contact lenses.
Lifesavers or other candy : Helpful if you are suddenly low on blood sugar and no other food is handy.

What to pack for Vietnam

Medical Kit for Baby

Texas Medical Kit is a really good deal and it is my understanding that you need to request a kit for an infant from Vietnam to get pertinent growth charts and other appropriate information

Items not listed in kit that are helpful to have:

Baby digital rectal thermometer with extra battery (easier to read than mercury one and less likely to break).
Petroleum jelly 1 oz. tube for thermometer.
Kaolectrolyte or Pedialyte powdered electrolyte packets
Eye dropper
Cotton balls

Ibuprofen Children's Liquid suspension 8 oz. (don't bring a small sample size - I could easily have used part of a second 8 oz. bottle)
Benadryl dye-free pediatric liquid (6.25 mg diphenhydramine HCl/5 ml) 4 oz. Bottle (good to help prevent motion sickness on airplane and many Asian people are motion sensitive)
6 cc syringes for dosing oral medicine
Phazyme or Mylacon (simethicone antiflatulent) drops for colic/GI gas pain - another adoptive VN baby in our group needed alot of this
Augmentin (amoxicillin with clavulanic acid) oral antibiotic - enough for 14 days Rx - was invaluable for an ascending middle ear infection that our son had.
Baby Anbesol anesthetic gel for teething pain
Baby Orajel Tooth & Gum Cleanser with baby tooth brush & gum terry wipe
Polytrim sterile ophthalmic drops
Neomycin, Polymyxin B & Bacitracin Zinc sterile ophthalmic ointment
Auralgen ear drops (anesthetic external ear drops for earache pain)
Lotrimin antifungal cream
Mycitracin (Bacitracin/Polymyxin/Neomycin) ointment
Antibiotic Band-Aids

Luggage for Vietnam Adoption Travel

Backpack (get a large soft one to use as carry on for the plane - esp. nice to bring home fragile items & can stow fanny pack in front pouch)
2 large suitcases (helps to have one wheeled luggage with handles and one collapsible one that's empty on way in so can use it to bring stuff home or get a good deal on a new one at the Pat Pong Night Market in Bangkok)
Fanny pack (large LL Bean one can hold diapers, wallet, needed meds, etc.) - use safety pins to secure zippers from pickpockets
Toiletry bag (Land's End lighthouse variety holds a lot - good for meds)
Flight bag with wheels and straps/clips to hold other things on it
Bungee cords (2 long ones - holds stuff on luggage if strap breaks)

Necessities for Vietnam Adoption Travel

US dollars (ones, fives, & tens to pay for FAX's to the USA from Vietnam - cost about $7/FAX; many shop owners preferred US dollars to Vietnam dong for payment)
Adoption dossier in Ziploc sealed plastic container
Neck wallet with cord to hold money, passport, change, airline tickets, business cards, id cards, itinerary
Combination locking luggage straps (2).
Caribeaners (8) to hook stuff onto luggage, fanny pack, camera, etc.
Buckey neck pillow for sleeping on the airplane & ear plugs
Insulated stainless steel thermos bottle (Granite Gear) in insulated carrier with shoulder strap
Nalgene wide mouth 32 oz. Bottles (2)
Children's "Off" (4.5 % DEET) pump spray
Water filter & Water purification items - Aquacure tablets 30/pkt., Polar Pure Iodine crystals 3 oz. bottle 35 mm
Camera (nice to have panoramic and regular view capability) in secure carrying case with belt holder opening
35 mm film (28 rolls) of 24 frame print
Extra camera battery
Electronic organizer for telephone & FAX numbers, calculator, memo, etc.
Extra batteries for electronic organizer
Large stainless steel (Outdoor Research) double-walled mug with lid 220 volt electricity converter
Heating coil to boil water
Laundry lines (2) travel style with suction cups on each end & clothes pins
Plastic silverware (2 sets of knife, fork, & spoon), tsp. and tbsp. measures
Travel alarm
Timer clock/alarm (really nice for giving meds on schedule)
Small rubber flashlight with (4) extra AA batteries
Swiss Army knife (scissors, blades, small screwdriver for eyeglass screws, tweezer, toothpick, file, corkscrew, large screwdriver)
Travel sewing kit
Fly swatter - long metal handle variety is nice to kill bigger bugs
Wash clothes (2) for adult
Toilet paper (560 single ply 2 rolls)
Zip lock bags - pint, quart, and gallon sizes
Plastic trash bags
Nice'n Clean moist towelettes
Purell waterless hand cleaner (kills 99.9% of germs)
Lysol spray
Chlorox liquid
8 oz.
Pocket tissues 2-ply,15 tissues/pkg. (10)
Twist ties, rubber bands, assorted safety pins
Black ink pens (ball point and felt tip), mechanical pencil with leads
Small spiral notebook to jot down notes
Transparent Scotch tape, large paper clips, glue stick

Clothing for Vietnam Adoption Travel

I pretreated my scrub tops, slacks, and shorts with Permethrin spray to repel bugs - get at REI.
(5) Tropic weight cotton, colored print scrub tops with extra pockets
(2) Tropic weight cotton slacks
(4) Tropic weight cotton knee length shorts with cargo pockets
(1) Cotton, wrinkle resistant camp shirt (nice for airplanes)
(1) Tee shirt, short sleeve
(10) Cotton panties
(4) Bras
(3) Cotton ankle high socks
Rockport walking shoes (for airplane)
Teva's hiking sandals
Nylon windbreaker with hood
Adjustable cloth belt
Lightweight hat with brim for rain

Books for Vietnam Adoption Travel:

Travel journal - write in daily 2-3 paperbacks for light reading
Bible/prayer book
Lonely Planet Vietnam Travel Guide
Directions/Owner's Manuals: Camera, Snugli, Electronic Organizer, Water Filter

Jewelry for Vietnam Adoption Travel:

Cheap wedding band
Cheap watch
Earrings - fake pearls, cheap small hoops, animals, etc.

Snacks :

Granola Bars (24)
Beef Jerky 4 oz. (5 bags)
Delmonte fruit cups (20)
Salted Pretzels- good to have if perspire a lot
Flavored drinks (tin kept in a ziplock in case it ruptures in airplane cargo hold)
Cheese & peanut butter crackers (16 individual packs)
Lipton cup-a-soup (chicken noodle, cream chicken, vegetable, etc.) (12)
Tea bags/coffee "tea" bags with sweetner & cream
Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers
Starburst candy, Fruit Roll-Ups, Lifesavers

Baby Items for Vietnam Adoptin Travel

Gerber Baby Rice Cereal (small box)
Baby feeding spoons (2)
Baby bottles - Playtex with liners (4 and 8 oz.) and extra nipples
Baby bottle brush
Baby wipes (260)
Molded foam bathing mat for bathtub or shower to wash baby
Baby wash clothes (2)
Baby soap and baby shampoo
Receiving blankets (2) lightweight
Baby socks (5 pair) - some with nonskid bottoms
Padders for shoes
Baby sunglasses
Sun hats with elastic or ties (2)
Onesies (6)
Sleepers (3)
Undershirts (2)
Bibs - snap on and tie with coated back to keep clothing dry from saliva/food (4)
Snugli Sac - have lots of padding for shoulder straps
Changing pad 14 oz.
Desitin powder 4 oz.
Desitin ointment 37 oz.
Dreft laundry detergent - I did our own laundry with this
Pacifiers (2) - Preston usually didn't want these but the other baby boy couldn't live without his
Plastic resealable tubs with lids (2)
Baby comb and brush
Baby finger and toe nail clippers

Toys for Vietnam Adoption Travel:

3 foam colored blocks,
small stuffed animals (2),
terry cloth foam ball with bell inside,
foam cloth picture book,
squeaky brown plastic bear,
plastic colored keys,
teething toys (2 - one solid rubber and one fluid filled) with straps or toy clips to attach to Snugli or bib

Diapers and Formula - bring only if not supplied by agency.

Gifts for Vietnam Adoption Travel

Gifts for Foster Mom :

Dial gold bar soap (3) - she requested this Salt Lake City 2002
Olympic Tee Shirt Stationary (25 sheets/pkg. of 8.5" x 11") 2 pkgs. - she requested this
Legal envelopes
Return address self-adhesive stickers with my home address
Ball point ink pens and pencils

Gift for Orphanage Director :
(these are the gifts I brought from my family)

Color cube of Post-It notes
Cross Ink Pen with Swiss Army knife

Gifts for Orphanage :
(these are the gifts I brought from my family)

White and colored boxes of chalk
Infant sleepers
Cloth foam picture book
Plastic-covered picture book

Recommended Books for Vietnam Adoption Travel

Here are some great books about Vietnam I found on the web and a good source to purchase them is through Amazon books for a discounted price. Titles and prices, if you are interested, or you might try to get them through your local library:

"The Land I Lost : Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam" Quang Nhuong Huynh, Huynh Quang Nhuong; Paperback.

"Land of the Ascending Dragon : Rediscovering Vietnam" Paul Martin, Steve Raymer (Photographer).

"Toad Is the Uncle of Heaven : A Vietnamese Folk Tale" Jeanne M. Lee; Paperback.

"The Golden Slipper : A Vietnamese Legend (Legends of the World)" Darrell Lum, Makiko Nagano (Illustrator); Paperback.

"Tam's Slipper : A Story from Vietnam. (Legends of the World Series)" Janet. Palazzo-Craig, Makiko Nagano (Illustrator).

"Children of Vietnam (The World's Children)" Marybeth Lorbiecki, Paul P. Rome (Illustrator); Library Binding.

"Passage to Vietnam : Through the Eyes of Seventy Photographers" Rick Smolan (Editor), Jennifer Erwitt; Hardcover.

Good luck and best wishes to all of you in your adoption journey.

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