How to Avoid Getting Sick in Thailand

There's more than a few ways to fall ill in Thailand. Find out how to avoid getting sick with these health and hygiene tips.

Photo © iStock.com/aluxum

Vaccinations for Thailand

While there are no recommended vaccinations for Thailand, you may want to consider the following:

  • Routine vaccinations - MMR, Polio, Diptheria, Tetanus (check that these are up to date)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid (if you are planning to spend a considerable amount of your trip in rural locations)
  • Rabies (while the risk to travelers is low, the rabies vaccination is worth considering if you plan to be in remote locations, working with animals or partaking in activities which may put you at risk of animal bite)

Medical Treatment in Thailand

If you do get sick in Thailand you're in a good place. There's a network of public and private hospitals. The private ones, especially in Bangkok, offer an excellent standard of care. 

Ambulances in Thailand

If you are in the south of Thailand, ambulances may present no major obstacles to you getting to hospital, unless you are in an heavily built up urban environment. In Bangkok and other cities, traffic may delay may delay your journey. It's estimated 20% of critically ill people in ambulances die on their way to hospital due to being stuck in traffic congestion. So it may be faster to get a taxi.

Ambulances in northern Thailand however can be nightmarish, getting thrown in a tuk tuk and driven across stretches of pot-holed and bumpy roads may actually exacerbate certain types of injuries.

Blood Transfusions

Most blood in Thailand is screened, but not all of it. Different provinces in Thailand have more care when screening blood for things like HIV, Hepatitis B, C etc. With 2% of deaths in Thailand being caused by HIV, it's still something you should be concerned about if you require a blood transfusion.

Diseases in Thailand

Being located in the tropics, Thailand's climate is hot and throw in humidity or monsoonal rains, it presents a perfect environment for diseases and other health hazards to flourish.

Malaria

There are conflicting stories between doctors prescribing Malaria tablets for travel in Thailand. Some strongly recommend and other suggest a good slathering of DEET will do the trick! Malaria hasn't really been much of a problem in Thailand for a while, but you should still take the necessary precautions while in rural areas.

Some nomads opt for taking medication with them, but only popping the pills if they feel like mosquitos are thick in a certain area - not a bad idea! There are also alot of non medical products on the market now to keep you covered and bite free.

Dengue Fever

But until then, dengue is the fever to watch out for.

Also called breakbone fever because of the excruciating joint and muscle pain, it can be fatal if untreated. Similar to Malaria, it's transmitted by mosquitoes, but these pesky little blighters are active in cities and during the day. They like to hang around shady areas – exactly where you're sheltering from the hot sun.

There's no vaccine or preventative medication for Dengue, and no cure. Medical staff simply treat the symptoms until the disease passes (about 2 weeks).

  • Wear white loose fitting clothing (The Thai government actually issued a warning about tight black leggings popular with young women).
  • Make the shirt long-sleeved and the trousers full-length. Okay, you're not really going to do that when its hot, so lather yourself in insect repellant (DEET) on exposed skin.
  • Use insect repellent (mosquito coils) in rooms, even during the day and if you see stagnant water around your accommodation, tip it out.

Can I Drink the Water in Thailand?

Don't drink tap water in Thailand, stick to boiled or treated water. Don't worry too much about the ice as there's an extensive network of ice factories which use purified water. It's easier for businesses to use the commercial ice rather than go to the expense of making their own. The good ice is easy to spot, it's tubular in shape.

For the same reason you don‘t drink the water, take care when you‘re swimming in it. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that gets into your body through cuts and abrasions when you're swimming, kayaking, and white water rafting. Also known as swamp fever, it was first recognized as an occupational disease of sewer workers.

If you have a cut, make sure you treat it with disinfectant from your travel medical kit, and stick a plaster over it.

Be careful when you're washing fruit and vegetables, always check the water source is safe.

Is Street Food Safe in Thailand?

You're going to find a variety of delicious food while traveling in Thailand but is it safe to eat?

Don't eat anything that's been sitting around, even for a short while. Fresh is best so insist on the food being freshly prepared for you. If the street vendor won't cook you a fresh dish, go to another vendor who will.

Pick food stalls that have a lot of people at them, the locals quickly learn which ones are safe. A food stall that's popular will have a high turnover of produce, again nothing is left sitting around to go off or let the flies get at it.

Another tip, watch for a stall that looks clean and fly-free. Try to watch the vendor's hands, are they clean?

Have a think about the utensils the vendor provides. Have they been washed properly? Is the washing water clean? Probably not. So carry a bottle of anti-bacterial hand gel, and give the utensils a wipe. Give your hands the once over while you're at it.

Want extra chilli? Go on, be brave, but think twice about taking a pinch from that communal bowl of flakes on the table. Who else has dipped their digits in there? Ask the vendor for fresh chilli instead.

Black Henna Tattoos in Thailand

Traditional henna tattoos are popular with young and old travelers alike, fading over time once they arrive home from their holiday. But there is also a sinister side which travelers should look out for and avoid at all costs.

Aside from being found in Indonesia, particularly Bali, black henna tattoos have reportedly popped up in Thailand, notably in the famous Khao San Rd area.
It contains all kinds of nasties such as kerosene and everyday pigments such as boot polish, hair dye, pen ink and more. Black henna leaves you with a long lasting souvenir in the form of a severe skin allergic reaction which can also cause future reactions to other dyes and inks. 

So do your research before getting that temporary tatt. Avoid anywhere that says black henna and ask to see what pigment is used beforehand.

Box Jellyfish Season in Thailand

Inflicting a painful and potentially fatal sting, these transparent cube shaped, long tentacled (reaching up to 10ft!) aquatic beasties are not to be messed with. Between 1999 and 2015, 6 tourists died from box jellyfish stings.

Box jellyfish float into beach areas around Krabi, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, with highest instances of injuries and fatalities around Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Their numbers increase in inshore during monsoon season. It's also important to avoid touching any jellyfish washed up on beaches as they are still dangerously toxic.

Avoiding swimming at night, wearing a stinger suit, swimming at beaches with vinegar first aid stands are some ways you can potentially avoid being stung. 

Beach goers don't realise they have been stung by the box jellyfish until the venom sets in because spotting the animal is difficult due to its transparency in clear waters. Symptoms can include: severe pain, swelling, itching, difficulty breathing, sweating/fever and tentacle tracks appearing on the affected body area.

Immediate first aid treatment is essential to survive a box jellyfish sting. First aid stations are set up at popular tourist beaches including vinegar.

Call emergency services or seek medical attention at a hospital or medical clinic.

It's important that both the affected person and first aiders remain calm and not panic.  Do not wash or scrub the sting sites. Previous sting cases have shown that application of vinegar to the site within the first minutes of being stung may give some relief. Remove any visible tentacles on the skin using gloves or tweezers. CPR may need to be administered in severe cases should the affected person pass out and stop breathing.

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6 Comments

  • Ben Hasan said

    Thank you very much for your advice. Our family are heading off to Thailand tomorrow.

  • Marcus Häger said

    Hello, don`t be horrified about hygien in Thailand. generally every streetfood
    stalls have plastiks over one of the hand.
    As earlier said, when many Thai people eat there, it`s safe. And SO much tastier than on
    expensive resturants.

    Marcus from Sweden

  • James Nardell said

    Thailand tap water can be used for cleaning food. It also probably won't do you any harm to drink it -- tap water currently meets World Health Organization’s 2011 Guidelines for drinking water quality. That said, as you advise, it's best not to.

    I did a YouTube video on the subject of; 'Is Bangkok tap water safe to drink?' Check it out below.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLfzN75IdXs

    FYI I have lived in Bangkok, and Thailand for 18 years now, so know what I'm talking about. [My wife's cousin also works for the MWA].

  • Michael said

    Thank you very much, can I subscribe somewhere here? Can you please give me some tips about Rawai Beach area in Phucket? I want to go train Muay Thai for a few months there. Thank you very much

  • Stephanie Meacham said

    If you are living here, it's better to reduce your plastic waste and just boil the water for a full five minutes.

  • Mooh Raali said

    Good article!

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