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Health & safety

Before you go

Further reading

Health Advice for Travellers (currently called the ‘T6’ leaflet) is an annually updated leaflet by the Department of Health in the UK and available free in British post offices. It contains some general information, legally required and recommended vaccines for different countries, reciprocal health agreements and a European Health Insurance Card/E111 application form. Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children by Cathy Lanigan includes advice on travel health for younger children. Other recommended references include Traveller’s Health by Dr Richard Dawood and Traveller’s Good Health Guide by Ted Lankester.

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If you’re an EU citizen, a European Health Insurance Card (formerly an E111 form), available from health centres, covers you for most medical care. The cards will not cover you for non-emergencies or emergency repatriation home. Citizens from non-EU countries should find out if there is a reciprocal arrangement for free medical care between their country and Austria. If you do need health insurance, make sure you get a policy that covers you for the worst possible scenario, such as an accident requiring an emergency flight home. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.

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Online resources

The WHO’s publication International Travel & Health (www.who.int/ith) is revised annually and is available online. Other useful websites:

www.ageconcern.org.uk Advice on travel for the elderly.

www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk General travel advice for the layperson.

www.mariestopes.org.uk Information on women’s health and contraception.

www.mdtravelhealth.com Travel health recommendations for every country; updated daily.

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Prevention is the key to staying healthy while abroad. A little planning before departure, particularly for pre-existing illnesses, will save trouble later. See your dentist before a long trip, carry a spare pair of contact lenses and glasses, and take your optical prescription with you. Bring medications in their original, clearly labelled, containers. A signed and dated letter from your physician describing your medical conditions and medications, including generic names, is also a good idea. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to have a physician’s letter documenting their medical necessity.

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Recommended vaccinations

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as well as hepatitis B, regardless of their destination. Since most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, visit a physician at least six weeks before departure.

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Dangers & annoyances

Extremes of climate and terrain make parts of the park potentially dangerous for walkers and climbers. Always come prepared for abrupt changes in weather conditions and visibility, bring warm clothing and adequate maps, and consider taking a guide on more difficult routes.

The number for emergency mountain rescue services is 140. Call 0512-291600 for weather information.

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Austria is one of the safest countries to travel in and crime rates are low by international standards, but you should always be security conscious. Be wary of leaving valuables in hotel rooms; management will look after expensive items if you ask them, even in hostels. Don’t leave valuables in cars, especially overnight. In general, let common sense prevail and don’t make it easy for thieves by loosely carrying cameras and jewellery around.

In the event of theft or loss, get a police report – this will be necessary for you to claim on your travel insurance. Your consulate should be able to help replace documents if you’re left in a desperate situation.

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In transit

Deep vein thrombosis (dvt)

Blood clots may form in the legs during plane flights, chiefly because of prolonged immobility. The longer the flight, the greater the risk. The chief symptom of DVT is swelling or pain of the foot, ankle or calf, usually but not always on just one side. When a blood clot travels to the lungs, it may cause chest pain and breathing difficulties. Travellers with any of these symptoms should immediately seek medical attention.

To prevent the development of DVT on long flights you should walk about the cabin, contract the leg muscles while sitting, drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol and tobacco.

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Jet lag & motion sickness

To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones) try to drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, try to get exposure to natural sunlight and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.

Antihistamines such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and meclizine (Antivert, Bonine) are usually the first choice for treating motion sickness. A herbal alternative is ginger.

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While you're there

Altitude sickness

Lack of oxygen at high altitudes (over 2500m) affects most people to some extent. The effect may be mild or severe and occurs because less oxygen reaches the muscles and the brain at high altitude, requiring the heart and lungs to compensate by working harder. Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) usually develop during the first 24 hours at altitude but may be delayed up to three weeks. Mild symptoms include headache, lethargy, dizziness, difficulty sleeping and loss of appetite. AMS may become more severe without warning and can be fatal. Severe symptoms include breathlessness, a dry, irritative cough (which may progress to the production of pink, frothy sputum), severe headaches, lack of coordination and balance, confusion, irrational behaviour, vomiting, drowsiness and unconsciousness. There is no hard and fast rule as to what is too high: AMS has been fatal at 3000m, although 3500m to 4500m is the usual range.

Treat mild symptoms by resting at the same altitude until recovery, usually a day or two. Paracetamol or aspirin can be taken for headaches. If symptoms persist or become worse, however, immediate descent is necessary; even 500m can help. Drug treatments should never be used in order to avoid descent or to enable further ascent.

Diamox (acetazolamide) reduces the headache of AMS and helps the body acclimatise to the lack of oxygen. It is only available on prescription and those who are allergic to the sulphonamide antibiotics may also be allergic to Diamox.

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Heat exhaustion occurs following excessive fluid loss with inadequate replacement of fluids and salt. Symptoms include headache, dizziness and tiredness. Dehydration is already happening by the time you feel thirsty –aim to drink sufficient water to produce pale, diluted urine. To treat heat exhaustion, replace fluids with water and/or fruit juice, and cool the body with cold water and fans. Treat salt loss with salty fluids such as soup or Bovril, or add a little more table salt to foods than usual.

Heatstroke is much more serious, resulting in irrational and hyperactive behaviour and eventually loss of consciousness and death. Rapid cooling by spraying the body with water and fanning is ideal. Emergency fluid and electrolyte replacement by intravenous drip is recommended.

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Proper preparation will reduce the risks of getting hypothermia. Even on a hot day in the mountains, the weather can change rapidly; carry waterproof garments, warm layers and inform others of your route.

Acute hypothermia follows a sudden drop of temperature over a short time. Chronic hypothermia is caused by a gradual loss of temperature over hours.

Hypothermia starts with shivering, loss of judgment and clumsiness. Unless re-warming occurs, the sufferer deteriorates into apathy, confusion and coma. Prevent further heat loss by seeking shelter, warm dry clothing, hot sweet drinks and shared bodily warmth.

Frostbite is caused by freezing and subsequent damage to bodily extremities. Seriousness is determined by wind chill, temperature and length of exposure. Frostbite starts as frostnip (white numb areas of skin) from which complete recovery is expected with re-warming. As frostbite develops the skin blisters and then becomes black. The loss of damaged tissue eventually occurs. Adequate clothing, staying dry, keeping well hydrated and ensuring adequate calorie intake best prevent frostbite. Treatment involves rapid re-warming, avoiding re-freezing and rubbing the affected areas.

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Insect bites & stings

Ticks, which are usually found below 1200m in undergrowth at the forest edge or beside walking tracks, can carry encephalitis.

Lyme disease (known as Borreliose) is a bacterial infection borne by ticks that can affect muscles, the skeleton and organs. It is easy to recognise in the early stage (a rash or red infection around the bite), and is treated with antibiotics. There is no vaccination against it.

Mosquitoes are found in Austria – they may not carry malaria but can cause irritation and infected bites. Use a DEET-based insect repellent.

Bees and wasps only cause real problems to those with a severe allergy (anaphy­laxis). If you have a severe allergy to bee or wasp stings carry an ‘epipen’ or similar adrenaline injection.

Bed bugs lead to very itchy lumpy bites. Spraying the mattress with crawling-insect killer after changing bedding will get rid of them.

Scabies are tiny mites that live in the skin, particularly between the fingers. They cause an intensely itchy rash. Scabies is easily treated with lotion from a pharmacy; other members of the household also need treating to avoid spreading scabies between asymptomatic carriers.

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Snake bites

Austria is home to several types of snake, which are more prevalent in the mountains. A couple can deliver a nasty, although not fatal, bite. Avoid getting bitten by wearing boots, socks and long trousers while hiking and do not stick your hand into holes or cracks. Half of those bitten by venomous snakes are not actually injected with poison (envenomed). If bitten by a snake, do not panic. Immobilise the bitten limb with a splint (eg a stick) and apply a bandage over the site with firm pressure, similar to a bandage over a sprain. Do not apply a tourniquet, or cut or suck the bite. Get the victim to medical help as soon as possible so that antivenin can be given if necessary.

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Tickborne encephalitis

Tickborne encephalitis (called FSME in Austria) is spread by tick bites. It is a serious infection of the brain and vaccination is highly advised for those in risk areas who are unable to avoid tick bites (such as campers, forestry workers and hikers or ramblers). Two doses of vaccine will give a year’s protection, three doses up to three years’. The infection rate in Austria is low and declining (less than 100 cases in most years); this is kept down by comprehensive vaccination, especially in high-risk areas.

Distribution of tickborne encephalitis is uneven; the website www.zecken.at (in German; go to FSME then Verbreitungsgebiete Österreich) has excellent region-by-region maps on distribution that are useful for hikers. Local pharmacists always know whether FSME is a danger in their region and can advise if you’re bitten.

Wearing long trousers tucked into walking boots or socks and using a DEET-based insect repellent is the best prevention against tick bites. If a tick is found attached, press down around the tick’s head with tweezers, grab the tick as close as possible to the head and rotate continuously in an anticlockwise direction, without pulling, until the tick releases itself. (Chemist shops sell plastic tweezers especially for this purpose.) Avoid pulling the rear of the body as this may squeeze the tick’s gut contents through the attached mouth parts into the skin, increasing the risk of infection and disease. Smearing chemicals on the tick will not make it let go and is not recommended.

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Sexual health

Emergency contraception is most effective if taken within 24 hours after unprotected sex. The International Planned Parent Federation (www.ippf.org) can advise about the availability of contraception in different countries. If emergency contraception is needed, head to the nearest healthcare centre or consult a doctor.

Condoms are readily available throughout Austria. When buying condoms, look for a European CE mark, which means it has been rigorously tested, and then keep them in a cool dry place or they may crack and perish.

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Women’s health

Emotional stress, exhaustion and travelling through different time zones can all contribute to an upset in the menstrual pattern. If using oral contraceptives, remember some antibiotics, diarrhoea and vomiting can stop the pill from working and lead to the risk of pregnancy – remember to take condoms with you just in case. Time zones, gastrointestinal upsets and antibiotics do not affect injectable contraception.

Travelling during pregnancy is usually possible but always consult your doctor before planning your trip. The most risky times for travel are during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and after 30 weeks.

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