Raising kids in tropical Australia
Growing up in tropical Australia can be a magical and safe experience. But there are risks for children if you live north of Rockhampton (Qld), Alice Springs (NT) or Newman (WA). Here is what you can do to keep your child safe and happy.
Health concerns in tropical areas
Heat and sun
Hot weather affects babies and children more than adults. Infants and young children quickly overheat and get dehydrated, particularly as they’re more likely to play outdoors and not drink enough water. They can develop heat rash (prickly heat), cramps, faintness, nausea or even heatstroke.
If you are raising a child in the tropics, make sure they drink plenty of water and stay under shelter or in a cool room during the hottest periods of the day.
To reduce the risk of skin cancer and eye problems, protect your children against sun damage when they go outdoors between 9am and 4pm.
Pools, dams, creeks, rivers and the ocean can help beat the heat in tropical parts of Australia, but being close to any body of water poses a serious risk to children.
Drowning is one of the main causes of death of children under 5. Children can go under the water quickly and quietly. Even in shallow water, babies and toddlers may not be able to get themselves out.
Children need constant supervision around any water, including swimming pools, baths and spas, rivers, creeks and streams, beaches, dams, lagoons and lakes.
To make sure your child is safe around water in the tropics:
- always keep your child within arm’s reach when swimming
- make sure they don’t have access to water around the house, such as in nappy buckets, the bath, sinks, tanks or ponds
- have a fence around the pool and make sure your child can’t climb over it
- make sure your child can’t reach any bodies of water close by
- always stay with your child at the beach or near lakes or rivers
Animals, biting insects and stinging plants
It’s important to teach your children about the dangers associated with plants and animals, such as:
- venomous snakes
- insects including mosquitoes
- stinging plants
Discourage kids from going in or near water known to inhabit crocodiles. You can learn more about crocodile safety in the Northern Territory here, and in Queensland here.
The sting of a box jellyfish or stinger can kill a child in minutes, so young children should not enter the sea or creeks during peak box jellyfish season. This is around October to June, depending on the area. Local council or tourism offices and websites sometime have up to date information on jellyfish. Some protection is offered by jellyfish nets at some Queensland beaches (but not all).
To protect kids from dangerous Irukandji jellyfish and other stingers, make sure your children wear a stinger protection garment year round. The tiny, almost invisible Irukandji can slip through the large mesh of jellyfish protection nets.
Food safety and diarrhoea
Both children and adults are more at risk of gastroenteritis in the tropics, as bacteria can thrive in warmer environments. To help prevent diarrhoea, always wash your hands with soap after going to the bathroom or changing your baby’s nappy and before preparing food or eating. Teach your children to do the same. Make sure your child always drinks clean water – boil it if you’re not sure and then keep it in the fridge.
Wash fruit and vegetables in running water before serving it to kids. Food is more likely to spoil in the heat, so it's important to refrigerate it as quickly as possible or use an esky or ice blocks to keep food fresh. When you prepare food, make sure it’s cooked through and put any leftovers in the fridge as soon as possible. Make sure you cover food to prevent contamination by dust or insects.
If your child has diarrhoea, encourage them to drink water or an oral rehydration solution.
Accessing healthy food
It can be harder to access healthy food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, in some parts of tropical Australia. It may be harder to find and more expensive.
Breastfeed for as long as possible, if you can, to offer your baby the best start.
If you can’t find fresh fruit and vegetables, buy frozen or canned versions – just read the label to make sure they don’t have too much salt or sugar. When you can find fresh produce, buy in bulk and cook it up to use later, for example, in stews, sauces or soups.
Tropical diseases and extra vaccinations
Make sure your baby has all the vaccinations on the National Immunisation Schedule, including against rotavirus, which causes acute diarrhoea. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in high-risk areas in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia are also entitled to an extra booster vaccination against pneumococcal disease, as well as the hepatitis A vaccine and the meningococcal B.
There are certain diseases that are more common in tropical Australia than elsewhere. They include:
- Ross River virus, dengue fever, Barmah forest virus or Murray Valley encephalitis, which are carried by mosquitoes
- leptospirosis or melioidosis, which are caused by soil organisms
- scrub typhus, which is carried by mites
There are currently no vaccinations against these diseases. But you can protect your child by taking some precautions.
You can protect your child from mosquito bites by dressing them in long, light coloured, loose fitting clothes that cover their arms and legs. Use mosquito mesh on doors and windows, and put mosquito netting over prams and strollers. Mosquito repellents aren’t recommended for babies under 2 months old, but there are brands you can buy for older babies and children. Make sure you read the label.
Make sure they don’t go into flood water or any other water that might be contaminated, and cover any cuts with waterproof dressings if your child is in contact with soil, mud or water.
How to get medical help
- If your child has diarrhoea, vomiting or a fever, take them to a doctor, hospital or the nearest clinic if you can. You can find your nearest health service using the healthdirect service finder. If it's an emergency or you are in a remote area and a long way from help, call triple zero (000).
- The Royal Flying Doctor Service might be able to assist you if you're living in a remote tropical area. Its services include:
- a 24-hour medical consultation service via radio or telephone
- remote health care clinics
- emergency air transport to a hospital for sick or injured people
- If you're not sure what to do, phone healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). You can also request a GP to call you back.
- If you have any questions about your child or baby's health, behaviour or development, call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436. You can talk to a maternal child health nurse between 7am and midnight (AET), or request a video call.
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Last reviewed: March 2021