Travel in Iceland presents very few health problems. Tap water is safe to drink; the level of hygiene is high, and there are no endemic nasties.
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Before You Go
There are no required or recommended vaccinations.
A travel insurance policy that covers medical mishaps is strongly recommended. Always check the policy’s small print to see if it covers any potentially dangerous sporting activities you might be considering, such as hiking, diving, horse riding, skiing or snowmobiling.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
The standard of healthcare is extremely high, and English is widely spoken by doctors and medical-clinic staff. Note, however, that there are limited services outside larger urban areas.
For minor ailments, pharmacists can dispense valuable advice and over-the-counter medication; pharmacies can be identified by the sign apótek. Pharmacists can also advise as to when more specialised help is required.
Medical care can be obtained by visiting a healthcare centre, called heilsugæslustöð. Find details of centres in greater Reykjavík at www.heilsugaeslan.is; in regional areas, ask at a tourist office or your accommodation for advice on the closest healthcare centre.
Citizens of Nordic countries need only present their passport to access healthcare. Citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) are covered for emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Apply online for a card via your government health department’s website.
Citizens from other countries can obtain medical assistance but must pay in full (and later be reimbursed by their insurance provider, if they have one). Travel insurance is advised. For more detailed information on healthcare for visitors, see www.sjukra.is/english/tourists.
Hypothermia & Frostbite
The main health risks are caused by exposure to extreme climates; proper preparation will reduce the risks. Even on a warm day in the mountains, the weather can change rapidly – carry waterproof outer gear and warm layers, and inform others of your route.
Acute hypothermia follows a sudden drop of temperature over a short time. Chronic hypothermia is caused by a gradual loss of temperature over hours. Hypothermia starts with shivering, loss of judgement and clumsiness. Unless rewarming occurs, the sufferer deteriorates into apathy, confusion and coma. Prevent further heat loss by seeking shelter, wearing warm, dry clothing, drinking hot, sweet drinks and sharing body warmth.
Frostbite is caused by freezing and the subsequent damage to bodily extremities. It is dependent on wind chill, temperature and the length of exposure. Frostbite starts as frostnip (white, numb areas of skin), from which complete recovery is expected with rewarming. As frostbite develops, however, the skin blisters and becomes black. Loss of damaged tissue eventually occurs. Your should wear adequate clothing, stay dry, keep well hydrated and ensure you have adequate kilojoule intake to prevent frostbite. Treatment involves rapid rewarming.
Iceland has some of the cleanest water in the world and tap water is completely safe to drink. Locals find it amusing to see travellers buying bottled water when the same quality of water is available from the tap.
Geothermal hot water smells of sulphur, but cold water doesn't smell.