Health & insurance
Before You Go
No jabs are required to travel to Italy, though the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, the measles, mumps, rubella, polio and hepatitis B.
Italy has a public health system (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, SSN) that is legally bound to provide emergency care to everyone.
EU nationals are entitled to reduced-cost, sometimes free, medical care with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), available from your home health authority. Non-EU citizens should take out medical insurance.
If you need insurance, make sure to get a policy that covers you for the worst possible scenario, such as an accident requiring emergency repatriation.
Find out in advance if your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures. If you are paying for medical services out of your own pocket, always ask for a receipt as you will need to show this to your travel insurance provider if making a claim for reimbursement.
Also, check if there is a reciprocal arrangement between your country and Italy. If there is, you may be covered for essential medical treatment and some subsidised medications. Australia, for instance, has such an agreement; carry your Medicare card.
The following government websites offer up-to-date travel advisories.
New Zealand www.safetravel.govt.nz
In Southern Italy
Availability & Cost of Health Care
Health care is readily available throughout southern Italy, but standards can vary significantly.
Pharmacists can advise on medical matters and sell over-the-counter medications for minor illnesses. They can also point you in the right direction if you need more specialised help. In large city-centre pharmacies (farmacie), you’re more likely to find someone who speaks a little English.
Pharmacies are marked by a green cross and generally keep shop hours (typically from 8.30am to 7.30pm Monday to Friday and on Saturday mornings). Outside these hours, they open on a rotational basis. When closed, a pharmacy is legally required to post a list of places open in the vicinity.
In the larger cities, English-speaking doctors are often available for house calls or appointments through private clinics.
For emergency treatment, head to the pronto soccorso (casualty department) of an ospedale (public hospital), where you can also get emergency dental treatment.
If you need an ambulance anywhere in Italy, call 118.
Italian beaches are occasionally inundated with jellyfish. Their stings are painful, but not dangerous. Dousing them in vinegar will deactivate any stingers that have not fired. Calamine lotion, antihistamines and analgesics may reduce the reaction and relieve pain.
Italy's only dangerous snake, the viper, is found throughout Puglia and Basilicata. To minimise the possibility of being bitten, always wear boots, socks and long trousers when walking through undergrowth where snakes may be present. Don't put your hands into holes and crevices, and be careful when collecting firewood. Viper bites do not cause instantaneous death and an antivenin is widely available in pharmacies. Keep the victim calm and still, wrap the bitten limb tightly, as you would for a sprained ankle, and attach a splint to immobilise it.
Always check all over your body if you have been walking through a potentially tick-infested area. Ticks can cause skin infections and other more serious complications such as Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. If a tick is found attached, press down around the tick's head with tweezers, grab the head and gently pull upwards. Avoid pulling the rear of the body as this may squeeze the tick's gut contents through the attached mouth into the skin, increasing the risk of infection and disease. Lyme disease begins with the spreading of a bull's-eye rash at the site of the bite, accompanied by fever, headache, extreme fatigue, aching joints and muscles, and severe neck stiffness. If untreated, symptoms usually disappear, but disorders of the nervous system, heart and joints can develop later. Treatment works best early in the illness: medical help should be sought. Symptoms of tick-borne encephalitis include blotches around the bite, which is sometimes pale in the middle, and headaches, stiffness and other flu-like symptoms (as well as extreme tiredness) appearing a week or two after the bite. Again, medical help must be sought.
Leishmaniasis is a group of parasitic diseases transmitted by sandflies and found in coastal parts of Puglia. Cutaneous leishmaniasis affects the skin and causes ulceration and disfigurement; visceral leishmaniasis affects the internal organs. Avoiding sandfly bites by covering up and using repellent is the best precaution.
Tap water in Italy is safe to drink, though most Italians prefer to drink acqua minerale (bottled mineral water).
Never drink water from a tap marked 'Acqua non potabile' (Water not suitable for drinking).