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Before You Go: Traveler Healthcare in South Africa

Water-& Food-Borne Disease Warning

South Africa has an satisfactory healthcare system, though quality can vary in more rural regions. Both public and private healthcare are options in South Africa. Private hospitals typically have quicker service and more amenities.

Drinking Water: Tap water is considered safe at the major hotels in South Africa. You should avoid drinking tap water elsewhere in South Africa, including while on safari. You can find bottled water in shops, markets, restaurants and bars.

Malaria: Most of South Africa is malaria-free, but malaria is prevalent in Krugar National Park and in the northern valley regions of KwaZulu-Natal. If you’re visiting these at-risk areas, be sure to consult with a doctor about taking anti-malaria tablets before you leave. You should also pack mosquito netting, full-coverage clothing and footwear, as well as mosquito repellent that contains at least 35% DEET. You may also want to stay indoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.

If you want to visit a game reserve without the malaria risk, other options include Madikwe, Pilanesberg, Waterberg and several private reserves.

Malaria is a parasitic infection caused by mosquito bites. Symptoms of malaria include fever, vomiting, headaches and fatigue. Malaria is not contagious.

HIV/AIDS: HIV is a virus that can be spread through blood and bodily fluids. It is essential that you not have unprotected sex while in South Africa. Condoms are available everywhere in pharmacies and convenient stores.

If you are a victim of sexual assault while in South Africa, you should get to a hospital as soon as possible. South African hospitals and clinics offer antiretrovirals for free to rape victims, but they must be taken within 72 hours to be effective.

Cholera: South Africa has occasional cholera outbreaks, especially in rural regions.

Cholera is a bacterial infection transmitted through contaminated food and drinks. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting, muscle cramps, dehydration and rapid heart rate.

Typhoid: Typhoid is a bacterial illness you can get from contaminated food and beverages. Symptoms include a high fever, abdominal pain, weakness, headaches, constipation and a skin rash.

Be sure to consult with a doctor about considering a typhoid vaccination before you leave.

Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A is a virus you can get from contaminated food and beverages. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and joint pain.

Hepatitis A vaccinations are routinely given as part of the childhood immunization regime, but you should consult with your doctor to make sure you are properly protected before you go.

Rabies: Rabies is a virus you can get if you’re bitten, scratched or even licked by an infected animal. If you will be in contact with animals, or in remote regions, consult with your doctor about getting a rabies vaccination before you go.

Measles: Measles is a highly contagious viral infection. Symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red watery eyes, followed by spots in the mouth and a skin rash.

Measles vaccinations are routinely given as part of the childhood immunization regime, but you should consult with your doctor to make sure you are properly protected before you go.

Rift Valley Fever: Rift Valley Fever is a viral infection transmitted through mosquito bites. Outbreaks are most common after heavy rain and flooding.

Take precautions against bites by packing mosquito netting, full-coverage clothing and footwear, as well as mosquito repellent that contains at least 35% DEET. At the time of posting, there’s no commercially available vaccination against Rift Valley Fever. Rift Valley Fever is not contagious.

Tuberculosis: Tuberculosis, or TB, is a bacterial infection that is spread through the air. Symptoms of tuberculosis include coughing, fatigue, chest pain, fever, chills, loss of appetite and night sweats. If you’ll be in an area with tuberculosis, consult your doctor about getting a tuberculosis vaccination before you go.

Tuberculosis is prevalent in South Africa, including drug-resistant strains.

If you’re bringing prescription medications:
  1. Check to see if there are restrictions on your medication in your destination country, especially if the medication contains narcotics, amphetamines or other often controlled substances
  2. Bring medications in their original, labeled container. Never carry loose medication
  3. Include your dated prescription signed by your doctor, certifying the condition the medications are prescribed for, dosages and their generic drug names. Ensure the name on the prescription, container and your passport all match.
  4. If you need syringes or needles, your doctor includes their need on the prescription.
  5. Before you leave, find out how you can legally access medications in the case of loss, theft or emergency – even OTC medication may require documentation from your doctor. Never have controlled substances mailed to you
  6. If legal, consider bring a second container of any essential medications, in case one is lost or stolen. Pack the primary bottle in your carry on, and the second one in another location. Personal-use quantity restrictions may limit you to 30-or 90-day supplies
Travel Health Insurance Checklist:
  1. Investigate travel health insurance options
  2. Be sure the plan includes any pre-existing conditions you have, and be sure to declare them before you go
  3. See if you need an “Extreme Sports” add-on policy if you’re planning activities like scuba diving or spelunking
  4. Find out the payment or reimbursement process and 24-hour emergency coverage contact