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Health & safety

Before you go

Online resources

The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes a superb book called International Travel and Health, which is revised annually and is available free online at www.who.int/ith.

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Recommended immunisations

There are no required vaccinations for entry into Hong Kong or Macau unless you have travelled from a country infected with yellow fever. In this case, you will have to show your yellow-fever vaccination certificate. Hong Kong is a highly developed city and as such immunisations are not really necessary unless you will be travelling on to the mainland or elsewhere in the region.

Since most vaccines don’t produce immunity until at least two weeks after they’re given, visit a physician four to eight weeks before departure. Ask your doctor for an International Certificate of Vaccination (or ‘yellow booklet’), which will list all of the vaccinations you’ve received.

If your health insurance doesn’t cover you for medical expenses abroad, consider supplemental insurance.

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While you're there

Dengue fever

This is caught from mosquito bites. Until recently it was unheard of in Hong Kong, yet some 30 cases were reported in 2004 (the outbreak claimed no lives).

This viral disease is transmitted by mosquitoes but unlike the malaria mosquito, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day, and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains (hence its old name, ‘breakbone fever’), and nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever.

You should seek medical attention as soon as possible if you think you may be infected. A blood test can exclude malaria and indicate the possibility of dengue fever. There is no specific treatment for dengue. Aspirin should be avoided, as it increases the risk of haemorrhaging. The best prevention is to avoid mosquito bites at all times by covering up, using insect repellents containing the compound DEET and mosquito nets.

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Giardia

This is a parasite that often jumps on board when you have diarrhoea. It then causes a more prolonged illness with intermittent diarrhoea or loose stools, bloating, fatigue and some nausea. There may be a metallic taste in the mouth. Avoiding potentially contaminated foods and always washing your hands can help to prevent giardia.

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Hepatitis A

This virus is common in Hong Kong and Macau and is transmitted through contaminated water and shellfish. It is most commonly caught at local island seafood restaurants. Immunisation and avoiding local seafood restaurants should prevent it.

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Hepatitis B

Whilst this is common in the area, it can only be transmitted by unprotected sex, sharing needles, treading on a discarded needle, or receiving contaminated blood in very remote areas of China.

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Influenza

Hong Kong has a bad flu season over the winter months from December to March. Symptoms include a cold (runny nose etc) with a high fever and aches and pains. You should wash your hands frequently, avoid anybody you know who has the flu and think about getting a flu shot before you travel.

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Travellers’ diarrhoea

To prevent diarrhoea, avoid tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected (eg with iodine tablets); only eat fresh fruits and vegetables if they’re cooked or peeled; be wary of dairy products that might contain unpasteurised milk; and be highly selective when eating food from street vendors.

If you develop diarrhoea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably an oral rehydration solution containing lots of salt and sugar. A few loose stools don’t mean you require treatment but, if you start experiencing more than four or five stools a day, you should start taking an antibiotic (usually a quinolone drug) and an antidiarrheal agent (such as loperamide). If diarrhoea is bloody, or persists for more than 72 hours, or is accompanied by fever, shaking chills or severe abdominal pain, you should seek medical attention.

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Insects

Mosquitoes are prevalent in Hong Kong. You should always use insect repellent and if bitten use hydrocortisone cream to reduce swelling. Lamma Island is home to large red centipedes, which have a poisonous bite that causes swelling and discomfort in most cases, but can be more dangerous (and supposedly in very rare cases deadly) for young children.

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Mammals

Wild boars and aggressive dogs are a minor hazard in some of the more remote parts of the New Territories. Wild boars are shy and retiring most of the time but dangerous when they feel threatened, so give them a wide berth and avoid disturbing thick areas of undergrowth.

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Snakes

There are many snakes in Hong Kong and some are deadly, but you are unlikely to encounter any. Still, always take care when bushwalking, particularly on Lamma and Lantau Islands. Go straight to a public hospital if bitten; private doctors do not stock antivenin.

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Water

Avoid drinking the local water as its quality varies enormously and depends on the pipes in the building you’re in. Bottled water is a safer option or you can boil tap water for three minutes.

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Medical services

The standard of medical care in Hong Kong is generally excellent but expensive. Always take out travel insurance before you travel. Healthcare is divided into public and private, and there is no interaction between the two. In the case of an emergency, all ambulances (999) will take you to a government-run public hospital where, as a visitor, you will be required to pay $570 for using emergency services. Treatment is guaranteed in any case; people who cannot pay immediately will be billed later. While the emergency care is excellent, you may wish to transfer to a private hospital once you are stable.

There are many English-speaking general practitioners, specialists and dentists in Hong Kong, who can be found through your consulate, private hospital or the Yellow Pages. If money is tight, take yourself to the nearest public hospital emergency room and be prepared to wait. The general enquiry number for hospitals is 2300 6555.

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Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Central Hospital (2522 3141; 1B Lower Albert Rd, Central) Private.

Matilda International Hospital (2849 0111, 24hr help line 2849 0123; 41 Mt Kellett Rd, The Peak) Private.

Queen Mary Hospital (2855 3838; 102 Pok Fu Lam Rd, Pok Fu Lam) Public.

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Kowloon

Hong Kong Baptist Hospital (2339 8888; 222 Waterloo Rd, Kowloon Tong) Private.

Princess Margaret Hospital (2990 1111, 24hr help line 2990 2000; 2-10 Princess Margaret Hospital Rd, Lai Chi Kok) Public.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital (2958 8428; 30 Gascoigne Rd, Yau Ma Tei) Public.

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New territories

Prince of Wales Hospital (2632 2415; 30-32 Ngan Shing St, Sha Tin) Public.

There are many pharmacies in Hong Kong and Macau. They bear a red-and-white cross outside and there should be a registered pharmacist available inside. Though many medications can be bought over the counter without a prescription in Hong Kong, you should always check it is a known brand and that the expiry date is valid. Birth-control pills, pads, tampons and condoms are available over the counter in these dispensaries, as well as in stores such as Watsons and Mannings.

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