5 Tips for Travel Health and Hygiene in China

Don't let illness curb your travels, here's how to stay healthy while traveling in China.


Photo © Getty Images/Jianhong Yin

Here are just some of the potential health risks facing travelers to China, and how to protect yourself.

Spitting in China

Chinese medical practice advises that swallowing phlegm is unhealthy. The Chinese Government has made several attempts over the years to curb spitting, and the SARS outbreak of 2002 decreased its incidence in major cities. However, it remains a common occurrence throughout the country; on the streets, in restaurants, on buses and planes, and you may hear a Chinese person coughing up regularly into a napkin. Sneezing without covering noses and mouths is also common.

Bathroom Hygiene in China

Be prepared to get low in the loo as squat toilets are the norm in China, although you will find Western-style toilets in major cities.

Public toilets are often dirty and messy, and you should always bring your own toilet paper. If you forget, you can buy it for about ¥2 from convenience stores, restaurants or bars. Ask for it when ordering your next Tsingtao.

Toilet paper can't be flushed down squat toilets and must put it in a bucket to avoid clogging up the already poor plumbing systems. Public facilities cost from a few mao up to ¥1.

Pollution Alerts in China

Asthma sufferers will want to plan ahead before arriving in China, as pollution is a serious problem. China's cars, population and many areas of construction account for it being home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, according to the World Bank. Those with allergies, skin conditions and problems with their throats may feel sick.

Do not tap drink water, buy it bottled, or boil or treat it first.

Poor Building Safety in China

Your health might also be compromised by unsafe building work, including improperly constructed, uninsulated apartments, office buildings and more.

In November 2010, a fire at a 28-story Shanghai apartment building killed more than 50 people and injured 90 more. Unlicensed welders were charged with accidentally starting the blaze.

The incident came a year after another 13-story apartment building collapsed while still undergoing construction, killing a worker. The cause was a pile of excavated dirt next to the building.

In recent years, Shanghai, in particular, has experienced a sharp improvement in construction standards. The city built new subway lines for the 2010 World Expo, and there have been renovations to highways, the two airports and high rises.

Be mindful of areas undergoing construction, and be aware that fire codes are not always in place, which might include the absence of fire exits (or blocked exits), escapes, smoke detectors and sprinklers.

Disease Epidemics in China

China experienced an outbreak of pneumonic plague, a contagious bacterial disease, as recently as 2009, and Avian Influenza, or bird flu, continues to affect poultry and can be spread to humans. Although Bird flu is more common in rural areas, avoid animal markets.

China has the second-highest incidence of rabies in the world, with as many as 2,400 people dying from the disease each year.

There have been outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) and a related virus that affects the intestines, most commonly in the summer in children and infants. Note: this is not to be confused with Foot and Mouth, which is a disease in animals.

Everyone who visits China is screened for H1N1, and if you show even the slightest sign of illness, you may be quarantined.

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