Described below are some common health problems and infectious diseases more or less frequently encountered by travelers in China. Use the available short information to become aware of health risks in the Peoples Republic, know the most common diseases plus learn possible ways to avoid them, and receive some handy tips for recognising symptoms and minimizing ilness and discomfort.
Please note that this page can only provide a General Guideline for Health Issues. For specific questions and detailed answers best refer to your prefered Medical Doctor or specialized service.
In most large Chinese Cities hospitals usually have a special ward or department dealing with patients of Foreign Nationality. In today's China medical care has achieved a perfectly reasonable level, so there is no need to doubt the quality of service. Assuming one is properly insured for medical care, there should be no problem.
The situation is entirely different in outlying regions, small cities and towns, especially those sparsely visited by (independently traveling) foreigners. In most medium-sized cities hospitals are available, however, doctors will most likely only speak Chinese.
Beyond the cities there usually are doctors but few hospitals. Furthermore, proper medical facilities or sufficient medical experience may be out of reach. In this case the situation should be judged according to the presumed medical needs. If possible try and reach the nearest large City and find a hospital.
UNCOMMON INFECTIOUS DISEASES
There are many less common infectious disease one might come into contact with in the Peoples Republic of China. Among them are Q-Fever and Dengue Fever.
In the winter of 2002/2003 a huge healthscare was experienced with the appearance of the SARS Virus and following nationwide epidemic with infected nearly 10.000 but killed only 12 people. SARS causes an acute respiratory infection which can rapidly progress towards death (from asphyxiation and exhaustion). Luckily the SARS was virus was controlled just in Time, preventing a worldwide pandemic with terrible cost of life.
Today there is no risk of contracting SARS while traveling in China as all cases have been eliminated. The latest infection case dates to the year 2003 AD.
Furthermore a vaccine is available and SARS has not re-surfaced on a large scale.The virus may however re-appear at one time. SARS virus best operates in low temperatures during the winter months which is therefor the time of the highest risk.
Hepatitis A, C and E/F
Hepatitis A is common throughout China especially in the south and highly populated area's due to the promoting factors in these environments.
Hepatitis A is transmitted through fecal particles and thus is usually waterborne.
Best method of prevention: stay away from unclean and possibly infected drinking water, frequently wash your hands especially after toilet visits. Avoid filthy bathroom towels and you should be fine.
Hepatitis A causes an inconvenient but never lethal disease which resembles a very stiff flue usually with high fevers. Patients may turn yellow eventually. The disease may pass in 3 to 4 weeks, or may linger for several months after its highpoint.
Other forms of Hepatitis are usually transmitted otherwise. The disease is either transmitted sexually or through some form of intimate contact. Hepatitis C and D can be transmitted orally and through stained objects or even handshakes. Most of the times however patients derive infections from 'risk behavior' which often means relations with prostitutes, getting tattoo's or piercing's or intra-venous drug use.
Notorious in China are infections through the re-use of acupuncture needless!! Make sure they are sterilized. If not: walk out !
Stay away from the above risk factors and situations and you should be fine. If not tough luck.
Hepatitis E & F used to be rare. They are frequently hospital derived or occur as a result of faulty blood transfusions.
Hepatitis (C.D,E,F) may lead to permanent infection, slow destruction of the liver, and either death or cancer of the liver followed by death. It is very serious disease.
Syphilis and HIV / AIDS
Both Syphilis and HIV are sexually transmitted diseases for which treatment is difficult and the ultimate cure unavailable. Generally speaking these diseases are spread by either prostitutes, their clients, drug users and sexually promiscuous groups. Avoid sexually risky behavior, especially with members of these groups.
Both syphilis and HIV / AIDS are currently rampant in China. Other sexually transmitted diseases go unmentioned (ask your private physician) here but certainly exist and are common. In all cases, due to social stigma and customs, patients and sufferers may conceal the nature of their illness.
Today, tuberculosis is still a common disease throughout China. Although quality of health care has risen dramatically in the past 20 years and large sums have been expended by the Government and International players on the eradication of tuberculosis, the disease remains wide-spread.
To illustrate the problem: throughout the 1990's China remained number 2 on the list of most affected Nations in the world, only surpassed by India, which has by far the largest number of disease carriers, patients and deaths. In the 1990's tuberculosis has been the number 1 cause of death from infectious disease in adults. Since, Government efforts have done little to control the disease problem and have only slightly diminished it. Only since the year 2005 AD the percentage of detected cases has risen above 80%, finally seeming to give authorities a chance to turn the tide against this debilitating disease.
Today the disease occurs in all Provinces and current forms are often immune to most anti-biotic treatments. It is not easy to complete eliminate the chance of infection, since in China one cannot avoid the crowds. The disease is airborne and except for avoiding (heavily) coughing people there is little one can do in terms of prevention.
Malaria is a parasitic disease that is spread through intermediary animals (vectors), in case a special species of mosquito which can transfer the disease from human to human or animal to human.
Worldwide there are five different species of this highly infectious parasitic disease. Only one form of them however occurs in China. Unfortunatly this is the most aggressive form of malaria with the highest morbidity and mortality rates. This form goes by the scientific name of Plasmodium falciparum.
Malaria is a common problem in the southern regions of the Peoples Republic of China, which have a wetter overall climate and know no cold winters.
Areas of China known to have frequent cases of Malaria are: Rural parts of Anhui Province, throughout Yunnan Province and in Hainan Island Province. Rare cases occur in other rural parts of the country that lie below 1500 meters in altitude (Less than 4921 ft) due to the physiology of vector and parasite. No cases occur in dense urban area's due to pollution and lack of habitat for the vector Mosquito.
Symptoms of malaria include a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms, the most telling of which would be periodically recurring fevers. Recurring fevers are however not the norm, especially not with plasmodium falciparum. Common symptoms; fever, chills, headaches, body-aches, vomiting and overall weakness.
Prevention of Malaria in area's where the disease is frequent can be somewhat laborious. The best combination prescribed by most medical doctors includes the taking a prescription antimalarial drug, the using ofvinsect repellent and wearing long pants and sleeves to prevent mosquito bites (and tick bites) and finally advised sleeping in air-conditioned rooms, or well-screened rooms. For sleeping out in the open air (camping) impregnated sleeping beds are advised. Sleep at least one meter off/above ground level, which should increase your protection significantly.
Active malaria infection with P. falciparum is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization.
Exhaustion may occur at any time during a lengthy trip in China. Sometimes it occurs due to earlier suffered stress combined with jetlag. At other times the intense traveling schedules some tour groups operate on can be pinpointed as at least part of the problem.
Please take in mind, travel to China usually does not amount to a leisure tour, but is often an overwhelming cultural and visual experience. Sometimes the strain of the local weather, high temperatures, altitude differences and prolonged hikes and climbs can get the better of eager travelers.
Exhaustion in travelers in China occurs frequently and is often recognized too late for understandable reasons. No one wants to miss out after reaching an entirely new place and civilization. However, sometimes taking a break from oneself is a very good idea.
Symptoms that may occur can be multiple: ranging from headaches, sudden nausea and collapse, to intestinal complaints and diarrhea. Irritability is good alarm bell.
Treatments are simple: Just take a break from your planned routine and loiter about for a day. Get some sleep, and mind you, avoid lengthy shopping sprees, bar nights and other stints that may recreate the same problem in another way.
Colds are easily caught and a frequent annoyance for regular travelers. While traveling one can easily catch a cold even during the summer months.
Naturally, the first reason why there is an increased chance of catching a cold while traveling is the increased number of people one comes into contact with. Other factors involved are the ventilation systems inside airplanes, railway cars, etc which tend to easily spread airway infections. Rapid changes in temperature and humidity or nights spend in air conditioned rooms can also contribute.
Last but not least, especially in China travelers might find themselves unexpectedly exposed to climate extremes. There are many such examples as tourist hotels tend to be located in cities whereas many tourist sights and monuments are found atop mountains or in other unusual locations. The Great Wall of China itself is a good example. Most people visit the Wall when they are in Beijing. Whichever the temperature is in Beijing, one might find the Great Wall cold and exposed to high winds, or the contrary reach it on a blue skyed day, and spend most of your hike along its length sweating.
One cannot prevent catching a cold, but try to keep in mind the above factors and minimize your chance at discomfort.
Alargepercentageofinternationaltravelersexperiencesomesortofgastro-intestinalproblemsand diarrhea in the days immediatly following upon their arrival in China. Problems are often mistaken for the signs of some sort of (mild) food poisening but this is rarely the real cause.
Most of the Times physical complaints are related to the 'resetting' of ones own body and system. Time changes, stress of travel, a different climate and often temperature and humidity, not to mention a different diet all impact at the same time, which may lead to some mild adaptation problems.
Usually symptoms slowly subside. Diarrhea may typically last one to five days.
Treatment: none. Or take activated Carbon to alleviate some symptoms, drink well and take in salts as they are lost with the diarrhea.
If there is high fever think of other more serious causes. Consider consulting a physician.
Health &Health-Care when Traveling in China (PRC)
This page was last updated on: May 21, 2017
The China Report
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