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Germany

Health & safety

Before you go

Insurance

If you’re an EU citizen, an E111 form, available from health centres or, in the UK, post offices, covers you for most medical care. E111 will not cover you for nonemergencies, or emergency repatriation home. Citizens from other countries should find out if there is a reciprocal arrangement for free medical care between their country and Germany. If you do need health insurance, make sure you get a policy that covers you for the worst possible case, 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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Medical checklist

All of the following are readily available in Germany. If you are hiking out of town, these items may come in handy.

antibiotics

antidiarrhoeal drugs (eg loperamide)

acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin

anti-inflammatory drugs (eg ibuprofen)

antihistamines (for hay fever and allergic reactions)

antibacterial ointment (eg Bactroban; for cuts and abrasions)

steroid cream or cortisone (for poison ivy and other allergic rashes)

bandages, gauze, gauze rolls

adhesive or paper tape

scissors, safety pins, tweezers

thermometer

pocketknife

DEET-containing insect repellent for the skin

pyrethrin-containing insect spray for clothing, tents and bed nets

sun block

oral rehydration salts

acetazolamide (Diamox; for altitude sickness)

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While Germany has excellent health care, prevention is the key to staying healthy while abroad. A little planning before departure, particularly for pre-existing illnesses, will save trouble later. 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. Carry a spare pair of contact lenses and glasses, and take your optical prescription with you.

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Recommended vaccinations

No jabs are required to travel to Germany. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, regardless of their destination.

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Dangers & annoyances

Germany is a very safe country in which to live and travel, with crime rates that are quite low by international standards. Theft and other crimes against travellers occur rarely. Of course, to be on the safe side, you should still take all the usual sensible precautions, such as locking hotel rooms and cars, not leaving valuables unattended, keeping an eye out for pickpockets in crowded places and not taking midnight strolls in city parks. Train stations tend to be magnets for the destitute and drug-dependent who might harass you or make you feel otherwise uncomfortable, especially if you are in the area at night.

Definitely avoid groups of intoxicated football (soccer) hooligans, especially those whose team was on the losing side. These people are erratic, unpredictable and often violent. Many belong to neo-Nazi and skinhead organisations who tend to target especially those they perceive as ‘foreign-looking’. Assaults are also possible in a non-football setting, of course. Statistics sadly show the eastern states to have higher rates of racially motivated crimes. While we won’t go so far as to recommend avoiding these areas altogether if your skin colour is not white, you should exercise extra caution in these states, especially in rural areas. Cities are generally safer, although they too may have so-called ‘no-go zones’. Ask at your hotel or phone the local police for advice. If you do find yourself in a threatening situation, try not to provoke these aggressors, get away from the scene as fast as possible and notify the police.

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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 difficulty breathing. 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 drinking plenty of nonalchoholic fluids and eating light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep etc) 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

Heat illness

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 drink water and/or fruit juice, and cool the body with cold water and fans.

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Travelling with children

Make sure the children are up to date with routine vaccinations, and discuss possible travel vaccines well before departure as some vaccines are not suitable for children under aged under one year.

If your child has vomiting or diarrhoea, lost fluid and salts must be replaced. It may be helpful to take rehydration powders with boiled water.

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Availability & cost of health care

Excellent health care is readily available and for minor self-limiting illnesses pharmacists are able to give you 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.

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Sexual health

Emergency contraception is available with a doctor’s prescription in Germany. It is most effective if taken within 24 hours after unprotected sex. Condoms are readily available throughout Germany.

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Travellers’ diarrhoea

If you develop diarrhoea, drink plenty of fluids, preferably in the form of 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, seek medical attention.

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Women’s health

Emotional stress, exhaustion and travelling through different time zones can all contribute to an upset in a woman’s menstrual pattern.

If using oral contraceptives, remember some antibiotics, diarrhoea and vomiting can stop the pill from working. 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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