Health tips for your first visit to Vietnam

By William Brian McNaull   July 10, 2022 | 06:32 pm PT
Health tips for your first visit to Vietnam
Two foreign tourists ride a motorbike on a highway in northern Vietnam. Photo by Shutterstock/Ser Borakovskyy
Vietnam has become one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia, and makes a visitor feel like they have entered another world.

Compared to other countries, Vietnam has some very niche and unique lifestyles that you might not have experienced before. Here are some health tips for your travel to that country.

Before your trip

According to WHO, of the 30 million Americans who travel abroad each year, around eight million are involved in accidents or contract an infectious disease. Therefore, get yourself well prepared by taking preventative measures for your health, especially people in high-risk groups, including young children, older people aged 65+ and pregnant women.

The chances of becoming sick while traveling in countries with a hot climate are as high as 60 - 70 percent (on a trip of up to 90 days). It is recommended for the protection of your health (and wealth!) to obtain travel insurance. Besides, travelers must protect themselves with vaccination against diseases that are common in the countries they intend to travel to.

For a Vietnam trip, make sure you are up to date with standard vaccinations like diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis (Adacel) and measles/mumps/rubella (MMR).

It is also recommended to vaccinate against hepatitis A and B as well as against typhoid.

For tourists planning to stay longer, it is not a bad idea to take rabies vaccine (three vaccinations for pre exposure).

Those who intend to stay often in rural Southeast Asia or go off the beaten track should consider a Japanese encephalitis (JE) vaccine. One can get JE in rural Vietnam especially where there are pigs around.

Prepare for extreme weather. In summer temperatures reach 34-38 degrees Celsius on most days and exceed 40 degrees on some days. Monsoon rains start at the end of June and last until October. This is the season for occasional storms, heavy rains and high winds in north and central Vietnam.

During your trip

[1] Food and water hygiene: Do not drink tap water since bottled water is widely available and safe. Select what at least appear to be clean restaurants. Ensure all the food you eat, especially poultry, is well cooked. Avoid ALL wild meats. Even "innocent" refreshing salads can harbor parasites and so these dishes must be prepared properly (vegetables must be washed well to rid the salad leaves of bacteria, cysts and parasites).

[2] Mosquito menace: Dengue is the most common mosquito-borne disease, especially in the northern monsoon (July through October) but also throughout southern Vietnam all year. Malaria is present in rural border areas and the Central Highlands. So long-sleeved shirts and trousers are essential. Apply a repellant on the neck and other exposed skin. Consider bed nets at night and ensure that windows have mosquito screens and it is best to sleep with the air-conditioning on.

[3] Alcohol. It is a well known fact that most tourists tend to drink more on holiday. This can lead to an increase in accidents, especially motorcycle accidents. Hence drink in moderation and NEVER drink and drive.

[4] Sun exposure leads to dehydration, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. Stay well hydrated and do not exercise outside in summer between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Medical treatment during travel can be both frightening and confusing, especially in a foreign country where the environment is unfamiliar and language may be a barrier. Taking care of your health is a top priority while traveling. The difference between medical systems and medical treatments with language barriers might make travelers feel uncomfortable, even lost. Consider a healthcare provider in town that has international doctors available to take care of your health.

After your trip, especially within 30 days of returning home, see your own doctor if you experience fever, headache, joint pain or persistent diarrhea and tell your health care provider where you have traveled.

*Dr. William Brian McNaull specializes in internal medicine and is the Medical Director at Family Medical Practice Hanoi.

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