Health & safety
You need no special inoculations before entering Turkey unless you’re coming from an endemic or epidemic area. However, do discuss your requirements with a doctor. Consider typhoid fever and hepatitis A and B vaccinations if you plan to travel off the beaten track in Turkey; also make sure that your tetanus/diphtheria and polio vaccinations are up to date (boosters are necessary every 10 years).
A rabies vaccination should be considered for those who plan to stay for a month or longer in Turkey, where rabies is common. Rabid dogs have been a problem in İstanbul in the recent past, but the council now vaccinates dogs (the yellow tag on the ear shows they’ve been vaccinated) and the danger seems to have been alleviated somewhat.
The fact that Turkey doesn’t have reciprocal health-care arrangements with other countries means that having travel insurance is highly advisable.
For minor problems, it’s customary to ask at a chemist/pharmacy (eczane) for advice. Sign language usually suffices to communicate symptoms and the pharmacist will prescribe treatment on the spot. Drugs requiring a prescription in Western countries are often sold over the counter (except for the most dangerous or addictive ones) and will often be cheaper, too. Ensure you know the generic name of your medicine; the commercial name may not be the same in Turkey. The word for hospital is ‘hastanesi’.
Most doctors in Turkey speak English and half of all the physicians in İstanbul are women. If a woman visits a male doctor, it’s customary to have a companion present during any physical examination or treatment, as there is not always a nurse available to serve in this role.
If it’s an emergency and you want to try a public hospital, consider Taksim Hastanesi (Emergency Hospital; 212-252 4300; Sıraselviler Caddesi, Cihangir; 24hr) The doctors speak English, and charges are the same whether or not you’re a foreign visitor/resident or a Turkish citizen.
Though they are expensive, it’s probably easiest to visit one of the private hospitals listed below if you need medical care when in İstanbul. The standard of care given by these places is generally quite high and you will have no trouble finding staff who speak English.
Alman Hastanesi (German Hospital; 212-293 2150; Sıraselviler Caddesi 119, Taksim; 8.30am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-5pm Sat) This hospital is a few hundred metres south of Taksim Square on the left-hand side. It has eye and dental clinics, German administration and English-speaking staff. A standard consultation costs YTL120. Credit cards are accepted.
American Hastanesi (American Hospital; 212-311 2000; Güzelbahçe Sokak 20, Nişantaşı 24hr emergency department) About 2km northeast of Taksim Square, this hospital has a US administration (all doctors speak English) and a dental clinic. A standard consultation costs YTL140. Credit cards are accepted.
Food poisoning & travellers diarrhoea
Food-poisoning symptoms are headaches, nausea and/or stomachache, diarrhoea, fever and chills. If you get food poisoning, go to bed and stay warm. Drink lots of fluids; preferably hot tea without sugar or milk. Chamomile tea (papatya çay) can ease a queasy stomach.
Simple things like a change of water, food or climate can all cause a mild bout of diarrhoea, but a few rushed toilet trips with no other symptoms is not indicative of a major problem.
Dehydration is the main danger with any diarrhoea, particularly in children or the elderly, as dehydration can occur quite quickly.
Gut-paralysing drugs such as loperamide or diphenoxylate can be used to bring relief from the symptoms, although they do not actually cure the problem. Only use these drugs if you do not have access to toilets, eg if you must travel. Note that these drugs are not recommended for children under 12 years.
If you experience diarrhoea with blood or mucus (dysentery), any diarrhoea with fever, profuse watery diarrhoea, persistent diarrhoea not improving after 48 hours or severe diarrhoea, antibiotics may be required. These symptoms suggest a more serious cause of diarrhoea and in these situations gut-paralysing drugs should be avoided. A stool test may be necessary to diagnose what bug is causing your diarrhoea, so seek medical help urgently.
Fluid replacement is important. Weak black tea with a little sugar, soda water, or soft drinks allowed to go flat and diluted 50% with bottled water are all good. You need to drink at least the same volume of fluid that you are losing in bowel movements and vomiting. Urine is the best guide to the adequacy of replacement – if you have small amounts of concentrated urine, you need to drink more. Keep drinking small amounts often. Stick to a bland diet as you recover.
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