Health & safety
Before departure, obtain travel insurance with good medical coverage. If you wear glasses or contact lenses take a spare set and a copy of your optical prescription. If you require a particular medication, carry a legible copy of your prescription from your doctor. Most medications are available in Sweden, but brand names may be different, so you'll need the generic name.
Immunisations aren't necessary for travel to Sweden, unless you've been travelling somewhere where yellow fever is prevalent. Ensure that your normal childhood vaccines (against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and polio) are up to date. You may also want to have a hepatitis vaccination, as exposure can occur anywhere.
Sweden is fairly safe, but petty crime is on the increase. In Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö and Linköping, ask locally for the latest advice on areas to avoid before wandering around at night. Beware of pickpockets and bag-snatchers in crowded public places.
Availability & cost of health care
Sweden’s medical system is state run, so instead of visiting a private general practitioner for emergencies, go to a local medical centre (vårdcentral) or a hospital (sjukhus), where duty doctors are standing by. There are centres in all districts and main towns, listed by area under municipality (kommun) in the local telephone directory. Be prepared to show your passport.
Pharmacies (apotek) sell nonprescription (and prescription) medicines and give advice on how to deal with everyday ailments and conditions.
For EU citizens with an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), a doctor visit costs from Skr100 to Skr150; those under 20 are treated free of charge. At hospitals, in-patient treatment is generally free with a nonrefundable, standard fee of Skr80 per day. Out-patient treatment charges vary. Seeing a specialist costs from Skr200 to Skr300.
Non-EU citizens should have adequate travel insurance or be prepared to face high costs, although some countries (such as Australia) have reciprocal health-care agreements with Sweden.
The rate scheme for dentists (tandläkare) changed in July 2008; initial visits cost Skr615 (free for children). Costs for other services vary (fillings cost between Skr585 and Skr1050). Most of these charges are not reimbursed, even for EU citizens.
For general emergencies and ambulance service, call 112.
Simple things such as a change of water, food or climate can cause mild diarrhoea, and a few rushed toilet trips with no other symptoms do not indicate a major problem. Stomach upsets are as possible in Sweden as anywhere else. Occasionally, cooked meats displayed on buffet tables may cause problems. Also, take care with shellfish (cooked mussels that haven't opened properly aren't safe to eat), unidentified berries and mushrooms.
Dehydration is the main danger with any diarrhoea, particularly in children or the elderly. Under all circumstances fluid replacement (at least equal to the volume being lost) is the most important thing to remember. With severe diarrhoea a rehydrating solution to replace lost minerals and salts is preferable. Commercially available oral rehydration salts can be added to boiled or bottled water. In an emergency, add a solution of six teaspoons of sugar and a half teaspoon of salt to a litre of boiled water.
Gut-paralysing drugs such as loperamide or diphenoxylate can be used to bring relief from the symptoms, although they do not cure the problem. Use these drugs only if you do not have access to toilets, eg if you must travel. Do not use these drugs for children under 12 or if the person has a high fever or is severely dehydrated.
Stomach cramps, nausea, a bloated stomach, watery foul-smelling diarrhoea and frequent gas are all symptoms of giardiasis, which can occur several weeks after you have been exposed to the parasite. The symptoms may disappear for a few days and then return; this can go on for several weeks.
This condition occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it and the core temperature of the body falls. It's surprisingly easy to progress from very cold to dangerously cold due to a combination of wind, wet clothing, fatigue and hunger, even if the air temperature is above freezing. It's best to dress in layers; silk, wool and some of the new artificial fibres are all good insulating materials. A hat is important, as a lot of heat is lost through the head. A strong, waterproof outer layer (and a space blanket for emergencies) is essential. Carry basic supplies, including food containing simple sugars to generate heat quickly, and fluid to drink.
The symptoms of hypothermia are exhaustion, numb skin, shivering, slurred speech, irrational or violent behaviour, lethargy, stumbling, dizzy spells, muscle cramps and violent bursts of energy. Irrationality may take the form of sufferers claiming they are warm and trying to take off their clothes.
To treat mild hypothermia, first get the person out of the wind and/or rain, remove their clothing if it's wet and replace it with dry, warm clothing. Give them hot liquids (not alcohol) and some high-calorie, easily digestible food. Do not rub victims; instead, allow them to slowly warm themselves. This should be enough to treat the early stages of hypothermia. Early treatment of mild hypothermia is the only way to prevent severe hypothermia, which is a critical condition.
Insect bites & stings
Mosquitoes, blackflies and deerflies are common from mid-June to the end of July, and fly swarms in northern areas are horrific. To avoid bites, completely cover yourself with clothes and a mosquito head net. Any exposed areas of skin, including lower legs (and even underneath trousers), should be treated with a powerful insect repellent containing DEET (although frequent application of DEET isn't recommended). Calamine lotion, a sting relief spray or ice packs will reduce any pain and swelling.
In high northern latitudes you can get sunburnt surprisingly quickly, even through clouds, and especially when there's complete snow cover. Use sunscreen, a hat, and a barrier cream for your nose and lips. Calamine lotion or commercial after-sun preparations are good for mild sunburn. Protect your eyes with good quality sunglasses, particularly if you'll be near water, sand or snow.
Tap water is safe to drink in Sweden, but drinking from streams may be unwise due to the presence of farms, old mine workings and wild animals. The clearest-looking stream water may contain giardia and other parasites. If you don't have a filter and can't boil water it should be treated chemically; iodine is effective and is available in liquid and tablet form.
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