Healthwise, Australia is a remarkably safe country in which to travel, considering that such a large portion of it lies in the tropics. Few travellers to Australia will experience anything worse than an upset stomach or a bad hangover and, if you do fall ill, the standard of hospitals and health care is high.
See also the Deadly & Dangerous chapter.
Facilities Australia has an excellent health-care system. It's a mixture of privately run medical clinics and hospitals alongside a system of public hospitals funded by the Australian government. There are also excellent specialised public-health facilities for women and children in major centres.
Medicare The Medicare system covers Australian residents for some health-care costs. Visitors from countries with which Australia has a reciprocal health-care agreement – New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Malta, Slovenia, Norway and the UK – are eligible for benefits specified under the Medicare program. See www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/dhs/medicare.
Medications Painkillers, antihistamines for allergies, and skincare products are widely available at chemists throughout Australia. You may find that medications readily available over the counter in some countries are only available in Australia by prescription. These include the oral contraceptive pill, some medications for asthma and all antibiotics.
In Australia's remote locations, it is possible there'll be a significant delay in emergency services reaching you in the event of serious accident or illness. Do not underestimate the vast distances between most major outback towns; an increased level of self-reliance and preparation is essential. The Royal Flying Doctor Service (www.flyingdoctor.org.au) provides an important back-up for remote communities.
Consider taking a wilderness first-aid course, such as those offered by Wilderness First Aid Consultants (www.wfac.com.au). Take a comprehensive first-aid kit that is appropriate for the activities planned.
Ensure that you have adequate means of communication. Australia has extensive mobile-phone coverage, but additional radio communication (such as a satellite phone) is important for remote areas.
Health insurance is essential for all travellers; see p000.
There's a wealth of travel health advice on the internet: Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) is a good place to start. The World Health Organization (www.who.int/ith) publishes International Travel and Health, revised annually and available free online. MD Travel Health (www.mdtravelhealth.com) provides complete travel health recommendations for every country, updated daily. Government travel health websites include:
Visit a physician four to eight weeks before departure. Ask your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination (aka the 'yellow booklet'), which will list the vaccinations you've received.
Upon entering Australia, you'll be required to fill out a 'travel history card' detailing any visits to Ebola-affected regions within the last 21 days.
If you're entering Australia within six days of having stayed overnight or longer in a yellow-fever-infected country, you'll need proof of yellow-fever vaccination. For a full list of these countries visit Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (www.cdc.gov/travel).
The World Health Organization (www.who.int) recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and polio, as well as hepatitis B, regardless of their destination. While Australia has high levels of childhood vaccination coverage, outbreaks of these diseases do occur.
Various insects in Australia may be the source of specific diseases (dengue fever, Ross River fever, viral encephalitis). For protection wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing, and apply 30% DEET to all exposed skin.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, fainting, fatigue, nausea or vomiting. The skin is usually pale, cool and clammy. Treatment consists of rest in a cool, shady place and fluid replacement with water or diluted sports drinks.
Heatstroke is a severe form of heat illness and is a true medical emergency, with heating of the brain leading to disorientation, hallucinations and seizures. Prevent heatstroke by maintaining an adequate fluid intake to ensure the continued passage of clear and copious urine, especially during physical exertion.
Tap water is universally safe in Australia. All other water should be boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected (with iodine tablets) to prevent travellers' diarrhoea and giardiasis.
If you develop diarrhoea (more than four or five stools a day), drink plenty of fluids − preferably an oral rehydration solution containing lots of salt and sugar. You should also begin taking an antibiotic (usually a quinolone drug) and an antidiarrhoeal agent (such as loperamide). If diarrhoea is bloody, persists for more than 72 hours or is accompanied by fever, shaking, chills or severe abdominal pain, seek medical attention.
Check with local surf life-saving organisations and be aware of your own expertise and limitations before entering the surf. Always use SPF30+ sunscreen (or higher); apply it 30 minutes before going into the sun and repeat applications regularly.