Health-wise, Australia is a remarkably safe country in which to travel, considering that such a large portion of it lies in the tropics. Few travellers to Australia will experience anything worse than an upset stomach or a bad hangover and, if you do fall ill, the standard of hospitals and health care is high.

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Before You Go

Health Insurance

Health insurance is essential for all travellers. Remember that some policies specifically exclude some ‘dangerous activities’ listed in the policy. These might include scuba diving, skiing and even bushwalking. Make sure the policy you choose fully covers you for your activity of choice.

Medical Checklist

  • insect repellent for the skin
  • insect spray for clothing, tents and bed nets
  • SPF50 sunscreen
  • oral rehydration salts
  • iodine tablets or water filter (for water purification)
  • paracetamol or aspirin
  • antibiotics
  • antidiarrhoeal drugs
  • antihistamines
  • anti-inflammatory drugs
  • antibacterial ointment in case of cuts or abrasions
  • steroid cream or cortisone (for allergic rashes)
  • thermometer

Recommended Vaccinations

The World Health Organization (www.who.int) recommends that all travellers get immunised for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and polio, as well as hepatitis B, regardless of their destination.

Visit a physician eight weeks before departure to Australia to ensure you're up to date for all routine vaccinations. While Australia has high levels of childhood vaccination coverage, outbreaks of these diseases do occur.

Upon entering Australia you'll be required to fill out a travel history card detailing any recent visits to regions other than your home country.

If you're entering Australia after visiting a yellow-fever-infected country as listed by World Health Organization, you'll be asked for proof of yellow-fever vaccination or instructed on what to do immediately if you display any systems in the coming days.

Websites

There's a wealth of travel health advice on the internet, not all of it good for you.

The World Health Organization (www.who.int/ith) publishes International Travel and Health, revised annually and available free online.

The US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/travel) provides complete travel-health recommendations for every country for different types of travel and traveller.

Other recommended sites:

Australia (www.smartraveller.gov.au)

Canada (www.hc-sc.gc.ca)

UK (www.nhs.uk/conditions/travel-vaccinations)

In Australia

Availability & Cost of Health Care

Facilities Australia has an excellent health-care system with a mix of private clinics and hospitals complementing a public system funded by the Australian government.

Medicare Covers Australian residents for essential health care. Visitors from countries with which Australia has a reciprocal health-care agreement are able to access Medicare. However, private travel insurance is recommended. See www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/subjects/medicare-services.

Medications Painkillers, antihistamines for allergies and skincare products are widely available at pharmacies throughout Australia. Some medications readily available over the counter in other countries are only available by prescription, such as the oral contraceptive pill and antibiotics.

Risks on the Road

Heat Exhaustion & Heatstroke

Temperatures in Australia are reaching extreme levels, so always check forecasts and prepare properly. Heatstroke is a severe form of heat illness and is a true medical emergency, with heating of the brain leading to disorientation, hallucinations and seizures.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, fainting, fatigue, nausea or vomiting. The skin is usually pale, cool and clammy. Treatment consists of rest in a cool, shady place and fluid replacement with water or diluted sports drinks.

Prevent heatstroke by maintaining an adequate fluid intake to ensure the continued passage of clear and copious urine, especially during physical exertion. One litre of water per hour if walking in summer is a good guide.

Insect-Borne Illnesses

Illnesses you may be exposed to in Australia include dengue fever, Ross River fever, viral encephalitis and Bairnsdale (Buruli) ulcer. For protection wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothing, and apply DEET-based insect repellant to all exposed skin. Seek medical help immediately if you suspect you've been infected.

Sun & Surf

Some surf beaches in Australia are patrolled by volunteer surf life-saving organisations. Look out for the red and yellow flags showing where it is safest to enter the ocean. Be aware of your skill level and limitations before entering any surf.

The sun is extremely powerful in Australia and generally burns skin quickly. If you have to expose your skin, use SPF50+ sunscreen. Breathable clothing, a broad hat and sunglasses are recommended in summer.

Travellers' Diarrhoea

Any water you collect, except from drinking taps, should be boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected (with iodine tablets) to prevent travellers' diarrhoea or giardiasis.

If you develop diarrhoea, drink plenty of fluids − preferably an oral rehydration solution. You should also begin taking an antibiotic (usually a quinolone drug) and an antidiarrhoeal agent (such as loperamide). If diarrhoea is bloody, persists for more than 72 hours, or is accompanied by fever, shaking, chills or severe abdominal pain, seek medical attention.

Health Care in Remote Areas

In Australia's remote locations it's possible there will be a significant delay in emergency services reaching you in the event of serious accident or illness. Do not underestimate the vast distances between most major outback towns; an increased level of preparation and self reliance is essential. The Royal Flying Doctor Service (www.flyingdoctor.org.au) provides medical services for remote communities.

Take a comprehensive first-aid kit that is appropriate for activities you have planned in Australia.

Ensure you have adequate means of communication. Australia has patchy mobile-phone coverage beyond the city; additional radio communication (such as a satellite phone) is important for remote areas.

A safety flare or beacon is also an essential piece of kit if you're really going off the beaten track.

Tap Water

Water is generally drinkable in Australia and is usually signposted if it is not safe.