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The question: "I have recently booked a trip to Montego Bay in January with my husband and three children, ages 12, 10 and 5. Are there any risks I should be aware of? Any immunizations I should consider? And is the water safe to drink?"

The answer

Building sandcastles on the beach. Body surfing in the waves. Touring the birthplace of Bob Marley. Jamaica has a lot to offer but, as with many sun destinations, you may need to change some habits to enjoy

an incident-free holiday.

"With respect to infrastructure, water treatment and hygiene, it's not the same as North America and Europe," says Robert O'Brien, director of Medisys's travel health and vaccination clinics in Montreal.

The most common illness is travellers' diarrhea (a.k.a. "Delhi belly," "Montezuma's revenge" and other monikers that sound amusing long after your bathroom confinement). It's caused by ingesting bacteria from, say, eating grapes washed with untreated water. Cramping and diarrhea usually last a few days.

Here's how to keep everyone healthy:

Visit a travel clinic or your doctor to evaluate your situation before departure. If you're staying at a five-star resort, then you can probably brush your teeth with tap water, Dr. O'Brien says.

Quiz your resort about its water-treatment systems. When in doubt, drink boiled or bottled water and avoid ice. Peel fruit and eat cooked veggies.

Make sure childhood vaccinations are up to date. Tetanus, which can be contracted from cuts, injuries and bites, is the most important one, Dr. O'Brien says. Consider getting a shot to protect yourself from Hepatitis A, a viral food- and water-borne disease, he adds.

Some other precautions:

Get travel insurance – and make sure it covers any extreme sports. (Is banana boating an extreme sport?)

Be wary of animals – the U.S. Centers for Disease Control advises keeping children away from dogs and cats to avoid tetanus or rabies.

Don't leave iPods, cash and passports unattended at the resort or on the beach, says Scott McKenzie, an Ottawa dad who has been to Jamaica four times with his family. Lock them in your room safe or leave them at the front desk.

Resorts around Montego Bay have security and generally only allow guests and employees on their property, Mr. McKenzie adds. "So they are very safe. However, Jamaica does suffer from the same sort of petty theft you will find in almost all tourist areas, so be careful of your valuables."

Karan Smith is a former Globe Travel editor. E-mail your family travel questions to

Special to The Globe and Mail