The following health information is a general text that applies to all our Middle Eastern holidays (Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Syria, Jordan). Travellers to the Middle East who pay some attention to hygiene and skincare usually don’t run into health problems, apart from some harmless intestinal complaints.
Food and drink: Tap water is unfit for human consumption; you should drink mineral water instead. In small eating-places it is better not to eat fruit or salads that have been skinned beforehand. In the cities, preferably take your meals in busy restaurants. Do not eat ice cream, except in expensive restaurants. Do wash your hands thoroughly before eating, even if you are only taking a snack.
Sunshine and heat: Sunburn is a frequent cause for health problems. The sun is fierce. Particularly from May to September, temperatures can rise to over 40 degrees Celsius. Sunburn and sun/heat strokes are easier caught than you may think. You should therefore avoid the sun during the hottest hours of the day, always wear a hat and good sunglasses when you are walking, and use a good suntan lotion when sunbathing. The latter can best be brought along from home, where the choice of product is much larger and prices are lower. At high temperatures the body’s need for water increases very rapidly, as does its need for salt. Make sure you drink enough when the heat is extreme and you will simply have to take it very easy during the hottest hours of the day.
Prickly heat: Prickly heat is an inflammation of the pores caused by excessive perspiration. It is common and innocent, but very annoying. The skin grows red and irritated in places. Places where skin touches skin, such as armpits and thighs, are particularly susceptible. The symptoms will decrease when you take a cold shower – without using soap – a few times a day and dry yourself off well. Talcum powder on the affected spots may also help. When it is hot and damp, do not sleep under a sheet but wear a cotton T-shirt. When it troubles you very much, the best thing to do is take an air-conditioned room for a couple of nights.
Diarrhoea: Next to sunburn, the most common health problem is diarrhoea. Travellers are often hit by it after they have been on holiday for only a few days. In most cases it is an utterly innocuous phenomenon caused by the change of diet, the heat or harmless bacteria, against which the body will soon develop its defences. The main risk is dehydration, especially in children. It occurs when the body loses more fluid, salt and sugars than it receives. The result is a feeling of listlessness and weakness. It can be prevented by drinking a solution of water and ORS. It is sold in bags at the pharmacies and contains all the minerals and sugars which are evacuated with diarrhoea. Instead of this solution you can also take noncarbonated soft drinks or heavily salted broth. For many people, cola has a constipating effect in the first stages of diarrhoea. When the diarrhoea is accompanied by high fever, bloody defecation or strong qualms, it is sensible to consult a physician. When the diarrhoea lasts for more than a few days without the above-mentioned symptoms or when you have to travel, you may take Imodium or Diacure a couple of times. It is an opium-like preparation that stops the bowels completely for a number of hours.
Doctors, pharmacies and drugs: Doctors and pharmacists are generally well-trained and trustworthy. When it comes to dispensing drugs, however, they tend to aim a canon at a mosquito. Always ask explicitly whether the medicines you are getting are really necessary. Almost all medicines are available without a prescription. When buying medicine be sure to check the best-before date. A small basic medical kit might include the following items: plasters, bandages, cotton wool, scissors, a thermometer, iodine, painkillers, malaria tablets, ORS bags, Imodium or Diacure, an insect repellent like DEET and an anti-itch relief stick or cream. Don’t forget to include earplugs against the unbelievable sound levels sometimes produced in the cities until well into the night.
Medical passport: If you are on prescription medicine, bring an extra supply and keep it separated. This way you’ll always have a spare stock. Ask your pharmacy to draw up a medical passport for you. This includes names of the substances and the exact composition of the medication that you use. Keep this document and your medication in your hand luggage. If you have a chronic illness, ask your GP for a written explanation of your disease and its treatment (in English).
Vaccinations: The information below was given by the healthcare authorities at the time of writing. This information may change. Moreover, your needs depend on whether you have had previous vaccinations, whether you are allergic to certain medicine, if you are pregnant, your age, and so on. ALWAYS contact your GP or some other healthcare authority for advice. The complete vaccination package includes DTP, hepatitis A, and – optionally – abdominal typhoid. There are no compulsory vaccinations, except for those who have been to regions with yellow fever or cholera within two weeks before arrival in the Middle East. Ask your medical insurance company if the cost of vaccinations is covered. Malaria: In Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt you do not have to take malaria tablets. The only place in Egypt where malaria occurs is the al-Faiyum oasis, which you are not visiting. During the months of May through October malaria does occur in Syria. Here, it is recommended to protect yourself with anti-malaria drugs. For more information, consult your GP or some other healthcare authority.
Some additional recommendations for an enjoyable stay
Allow your body and mind some time to adapt to the new time zone and location. Avoid stress, do not plan to do too much at once. At least take it easy on the first day. It is a good habit to get up early; in hot climates the morning temperature is often the most agreeable. The people in the countries you visit are also used to rising early. When you adapt to their rhythm you will make the most of your trip. When you are well-rested you are best able to deal with all the new impressions and you’ll have the energy to undertake more activities.