Health & safety
For EU citizens the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which you can apply for online, by phone or by post, covers most medical care. It doesn’t cover nonemergencies or emergency repatriation home. You’ll still have to pay for medicine bought from pharmacies, even if prescribed, and perhaps for a few tests and procedures. An E111 is no good for private medical consultations and treatment in the Canaries; this includes most dentists and some of the better clinics and surgeries.
Citizens from other countries should find out if there’s a reciprocal arrangement for free medical care between their country and Spain. If you need health insurance, strongly consider a policy that covers for the worst possible scenario, such as an accident requiring an emergency flight home. Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make direct payments to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures.
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The WHO’s International Travel and Health publication is revised annually and is available online at www.who.int/ith. Other useful websites include www.mdtravelhealth.com (travel-health recommendations for every country, updated daily), www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk (general travel advice for the lay person) and www.ageconcern.org.uk (advice on travel for elderly people).
Prevention is the key to staying healthy while abroad. Some predeparture planning 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.
No jabs are required to travel to Spain. The World Health Organisation (WHO), however, recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of their destination. Since most vaccines don’t provide immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, visit a physician at least six weeks before departure.
The vast majority of travellers to the islands risk little more than sunburn, hangovers and overspending. Petty theft can be a problem in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the big south-coast resorts on Tenerife and Gran Canaria, and tourist magnets like El Teide, but with a few simple precautions you can minimise the danger.
Carry valuables under your clothes if possible – certainly not in a back pocket or day pack or anything that could be snatched away easily – and keep your eyes open for people who get unnecessarily close to you. Never leave anything visible in cars. If possible, don’t even leave anything valuable in the boot (trunk). Hire cars are targeted.
Take care with your belongings on the beach. Lone travellers should consider investing in a waterproof neck pouch so that they can keep lightweight valuables with them even while swimming.
Don’t leave anything valuable lying around your room and use a safe if there is one available, even if you have to pay to use it.
If anything valuable is stolen or lost, you must report it to the police and get a copy of the report if you want to make an insurance claim.
If your passport is stolen or lost, contact your embassy or consulate for help in issuing a replacement. Before you leave home, write your name, address and telephone number inside your luggage and take photocopies of your important documents.
Travel insurance against theft and loss is another good idea.
Party animals should be aware that some other party animals, when drunk enough, can become quite unpredictable. In most cases, we are talking loud and drunken louts ferried in on charter flights from northern Europe, some of whom can’t resist a good fight.
You may well come across time-share touts if you hang around the main resorts in the Canary Islands. If you like the islands enough, time-share may be worth considering, but be careful about how and what you choose. You need to have all your rights and obligations in writing, especially where management companies promise to sell your time-share for you if you decide to buy a new one. A number of ‘free’ sightseeing tours throughout the islands are little more than a quick trip to a theme park and then a solid round of the hard sell, as touts pressure you to buy time in a property. If you’re not into this, say so up front and save yourself the hassle.
Deep vein thrombosis
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 deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is swelling or pain in the foot, ankle or calf, usually, but not always, just on 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 in the hours before your flight.
To avoid jet lag (common when crossing several time zones) drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, seek exposure to natural sunlight and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.
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 through water and/or fruit juice and cool the body with cold water and fans.
Insect bites & stings
Mosquitoes in the Canaries probably don’t carry malaria, but they can cause irritation and infected bites. Use a DEET-based insect repellent.
Bees and wasps cause real problems only 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.
Scorpions are mercifully rarer on the Canary Islands than in mainland Spain. Their sting can be distressingly painful but isn’t fatal.
In forested areas watch out for the hairy, reddish-brown caterpillars of the pine processionary moth. They live in silvery nests in the pine trees and, in spring, leave the nest to march in long lines (hence the name). Touching the caterpillars’ hairs sets off a severely irritating allergic skin reaction.
Check for ticks if you have been walking where sheep and goats graze: they can cause skin infections and other more serious diseases.
Travelling with children
Make sure children are up to date with routine vaccinations. Discuss possible travel vaccines well before departure, as some are not suitable for children under one year of age. Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children includes travel-health advice for younger children.
Availability of health care
If you need an ambulance call 112 (the pan-European emergency telephone number, which can be called for urgent medical assistance). An alternative emergency number is 061 for urgencias salud (medical emergencies). For emergency treatment go straight to the urgencias (emergencies) section of the nearest hospital.
Good health care is readily available. For minor, self-limiting illnesses, pharmacists can give valuable advice and sell over-the-counter medication. They can also advise when more specialised help is required and point you in the right direction.
The standard of dental care is usually good; however, it is sensible to have a dental checkup before a long trip.
Condoms are readily available on the island but emergency contraception may not be, so take the necessary precautions. When buying condoms, look for a European CE mark, which means they have been rigorously tested, and then keep them in a cool, dry place or they may crack and perish.
If you develop diarrhoea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably an oral rehydration solution such as Dioralyte. If diarrhoea is bloody, persists for more than 72 hours or is accompanied by fever, shaking, chills or severe abdominal pain, you should seek medical attention.
Travelling during pregnancy is usually possible but there are important things to consider. Always seek a medical checkup before planning your trip. The most risky times for travel are during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and after 30 weeks.