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Before You Go

Recommended Vaccinations

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that, regardless of their destination, all travellers should be covered for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and polio, as well as hepatitis B. A vaccination for tick-borne encephalitis is also highly advisable.

Health Insurance

Most standard policies don't cover many outdoor activities; you'll need to pay a premium for winter-sports cover and further premiums for adventure sports like bungee jumping and skydiving. Mountain rescue is shockingly expensive; ensure that your policy covers helicopter rescue and emergency repatriation.

In Switzerland

Availability & Cost of Health Care

Health care in Switzerland is of very high quality, but it's expensive. An embassy, consulate or hotel can usually recommend a local doctor or clinic.

A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) enables European citizens to access state-provided health care in Switzerland at a reduced cost. Otherwise, expect to pay around Sfr150 for a straightforward, non-urgent consultation with a doctor. Over-the-counter medications are available at a local Apotheke (pharmacy), where staff usually speak English and are well informed.

Tap Water

Tap water in Switzerland is pure, rich in minerals and perfectly safe to drink – in fact it's often just as good as any of the stuff you can buy in bottles. Don't necessarily expect it free in restaurants, however; bottled water (either still or sparkling) is the norm.

Environmental Hazards

Altitude Sickness

This disorder can occur above 3000m, but very few treks or ski runs in the Swiss Alps reach such heights. Headache, vomiting, dizziness, extreme faintness, and difficulty in breathing and sleeping are signs to heed. Treat mild symptoms with rest and simple painkillers. If symptoms persist or get worse, descend to a lower altitude and seek medical advice.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it and the core temperature of the body falls. It is surprisingly easy to progress from very cold to dangerously cold due to a combination of wind, wet clothing, fatigue and hunger, even if the air temperature is above freezing. It is best to dress in layers of good insulating materials and to wear a hat and a strong, waterproof outer layer when hiking or skiing. A ‘space’ blanket for emergencies is essential. Carry basic supplies, including food containing simple sugars and fluid to drink.

Symptoms of hypothermia are exhaustion, numb skin (particularly toes and fingers), shivering, slurred speech, irrational or violent behaviour, lethargy, stumbling, dizzy spells, muscle cramps and violent bursts of energy.

To treat mild hypothermia, get the person out of the wind and/or rain, remove their clothing if wet and replace it with dry, warm clothing. Give them hot liquids – not alcohol – and high-kilojoule, easily digestible food. Do not rub victims; allow them to slowly warm themselves. The early recognition and treatment of mild hypothermia is the only way to prevent severe hypothermia (a critical condition).

Ticks

These small creatures can be found throughout Switzerland up to an altitude of 1200m, and typically live in underbrush at the forest edge or beside walking tracks.

Always check your whole body if you’ve been walking through a potentially tick-infested area. 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-parts into the skin, increasing the risk of infection and disease. Smearing chemicals on the tick is not recommended.

Lyme Disease

This is an infection transmitted by ticks that may be acquired in Europe. The illness usually begins with a spreading rash at the site of the tick bite and is accompanied by fever, headache, extreme fatigue, aching joints and muscles, and mild neck stiffness. If untreated, these symptoms usually resolve over several weeks, but over subsequent weeks or months, disorders of the nervous system, heart and joints may develop. Seek medical help.

Tick-borne Encephalitis

This disease is a cerebral inflammation carried by a virus. Tick-borne encephalitis can occur in most forest and rural areas of Switzerland. If you have been bitten, even having removed the tick, you should keep an eye out for symptoms, including blotches around the bite, which is sometimes pale in the middle. Headache, stiffness and other flu-like symptoms, as well as extreme tiredness, appearing a week or two after the bite, can progress to more serious problems. Medical help must be sought. A vaccination is available.