Low standards of public hygiene, stress and overcrowded conditions are to blame for most of the health problems that beset travelers in China. It’s easy to become stressed and exhausted, leaving yourself vulnerable to infections. Travel at an easy pace, and treat yourself occasionally to upmarket accommodation. Take vitamins (buy them overseas before you arrive). Personal hygiene is one area it pays to be meticulous – wash hands often and don’t share drinks or cigarettes. When in the shower, always wear flip-flops or shower shoes, provided free at hotels. The smallest cuts can become infected, so clean them thoroughly and apply an antiseptic cream (buy it overseas before you arrive). With the majority of China’s water supply highly contaminated, water is the major cause of sickness. Don’t drink tap water, or use it to clean your teeth; avoid ice in drinks, be careful showering with water in your mouth or eye sockets, and never eat the ice lollies sold on the streets.
Chinese who live their life in China have built up immunities, but most foreigners will get sick at very basic things. Either pollution levels affecting dizziness and eyesight and throat, fake food and drink, or even more basic, brushing teeth or having a shower with your eyes open.
Bring medication and extra medication where ever possible. Obtaining foreign drugs, or even their equivalents is difficult, sometimes impossible, and sometimes highly questionable in China due to fakes. Keep copies of the prescriptions or details about the medicine with the medicine – English is OK. If bringing vitamins, keep them in the original containers.
It is very important to bring an anti diarrheal agent — (Imodium is great), and any other prescription drugs required. Further, if you easily get flu/colds or sick, I strongly recommend a supply of both Tylenol Day Time Non Drowsy FLU and wide spectrum Antibiotics.
To stay healthy is a challenge in China – you need to always be aware of your surroundings… Drink plenty of high end clean bottled water, avoid excessive drinking, get lots of sleep, avoid fake drinks & food wherever possible, anticipate colds, and be prepared with medicine to fight it.
90% of China’s urban groundwater is contaminated. Water quality is very poor and you may develop intestinal problems if you use tap water to brush your teeth, or if you eat vegetables which have not been cooked after having been rinsed in tap water. Bring Pepto Bismol help prevent intestinal troubles and Imodium for when it’s too late.
Be careful not to get any water in your mouth or eye sockets when you shower. It tastes normal, but could easily make you sick. Always brush your teeth with bottled water – the 4 and 5 star hotels catering to foreigners will supply bottled water for free for this purpose.
Cheap bottled water that was filtered with nylon filters is still commonly sold. Only buy name brand bottled water in big supermarkets.
Food & Drink
Food safety is one of the most serious and sensitive recurring issues in China.
Be aware of the dangers initially of eating street food and drinking water. It’s very, very, very common for foreigners to get very sick easily in China by not being careful and prudent in what they eat/drink.
- The street food smells great, looks interesting and is tempting, however, it is the most frequent reason foreigners get sick. Take some time to build up your immunities – at least 3 or 4 weeks, before you consider tasting.
- Similarly, NEVER ever eat runny eggs, watery salad, pink chicken or other semi cooked items until your bodies get adjusted — about 6 months).
- Be very wary of hard shelled fruits such as watermelon or cantaloupe, since these are sold to markets by weight and growers routinely inject river water into the fruit as it’s growing to make them heavier and plumper for sale.
- Also be wary of bottled water and soft drink bought on the streets – check the seals — most is counterfeit.
- Many (actually most) bars and KTV outlets sell fake common “well” liquor (vodka, scotch, gin, rum, tequila) – you have no idea what is in these.
China is a smoking country – it’s one of the few vices that is widespread and enjoyed. You will see ashtrays everywhere – people in China smoke nearly everywhere, and while the number of Chinese that do not smoke is growing, non-smokers have been forced to become accustomed to second hand smoke, particularly in 2nd tier cities, in taxis, offices, hotels, restaurants, elevators etc..
For the non-smokers coming to China, there is little that can be done about the 2nd hand smoke that will be in hotel rooms, offices, theatres, taxis, restaurants etc.. You will still smell smoke, breath smoke, and the Chinese around you are unlikely to put out there cigarettes easily. There is nothing that can be done about this.
Indeed, in China, smoking is considered a privilege by many, and as a result, even in government meetings and banquets, you may be offered expensive cigarettes reserved for use by the wealthy and powerful as a status symbol. It IS acceptable, as a foreigner, to politely decline – particularly singers, dancers and musicians.
Both Beijing (as of 2015) and Shanghai (as of March 2017) are taking measures to curb smoking in hotels, restaurants and bars.
Remember, the pollution is far worse.
There are no vaccinations that are required for a trip to China unless you are coming from a country that has a high risk of yellow fever. That said, it is a good idea to be up-to-date for your vaccination shots and immunizations before you arrive in China.
See your local doctor or physician to determine which of the following vaccinations is right for you. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that you be current on all your routine vaccinations. Check the CDC website for the latest recommendations. The following vaccinations are recommended for your consideration for China:
- Hepatitis A – available for all travelers to China older than 12 months. Hepatitis A is a viral infection spread by contaminated food and water which causes an inflammation of the liver. Symptoms are yellowing of the eyes and skin, preceded by fever and pains in the upper right abdomen. The traditional one-shot vaccine gives protection for about 3 months.
- Hepatitis B – available for anyone older than 5 years. According to the CDC, China has a high risk for this disease. Hepatitis B virus can be passed on through unprotected sexual contact, transfusions of unscreened blood and d