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Before You Go
There are no vaccinations that are required for a visit to St Petersburg.
Health insurance for any trip to St Petersburg is necessary. Note also that, officially at least, most Russian embassies issuing visas require you to purchase travel insurance. This isn't strictly implemented, however: but by all means send them details of your policy if you already have one.
In St Petersburg
Reports about the harmful effects of drinking tap water in St Petersburg have been widely publicised and greatly exaggerated. The city’s water supplier, Vodokanal (www.vodokanal.spb.ru), insists that the water is safe to drink, as many local residents do. Nonetheless, the pipes are antiquated, so the water may contain some metal pollutants. Furthermore, traces of the parasite Giardia lamblia have been found on a very small scale; the parasite causes unpleasant stomach cramps, nausea, bloated stomach, diarrhoea and frequent gas – and there is no preventative drug, so it is worth taking precautions against contracting it.
To be absolutely safe, only drink water that has been boiled for 10 minutes or filtered through an antimicrobial water filter. It’s safe to accept tea or coffee at someone’s house, and all restaurants and hotels will have filtration systems. Bathing, showering and brushing your teeth cause no problems at all.
If you develop diarrhoea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, preferably including an oral rehydration solution. Imodium is to be taken only in an emergency; otherwise it’s best to let the diarrhoea run its course and eliminate the parasite from the body. Metronidazole (brand name Flagyl) or Tinidazole (known as Fasigyn) are the recommended treatments for Giardia lamblia.
Health care in the city is very good if you’re going private. Using public hospitals is not something you should consider, so even if your local Russian embassy doesn’t require valid health insurance, you should definitely purchase it.
Look for the sign АПТЕКА (apteka) or the usual green cross to find a pharmacy.
A chain of 24-hour pharmacies called 36.6 Pharmacy (www.366.ru) has many branches around the city, including in the Historic Heart. Other convenient pharmacies include Raduga, with branches in the Petrograd Side and Smolny.