Healthy Travel in Turkey
Healthy Travel in Turkey
No special inoculations are required for Turkey, although cautious travellers might want typhoid and tetanus jabs, particularly for eastern Anatolia. Some visitors also get injections against hepatitis A, for which the risk is possibly greater in İstanbul than in rural areas. For up-to-date advice, consult a travel clinic.
Stomach upsets and drinking water
Many visitors experience bouts of diarrhoea, especially on longer stays. If you do get struck down, note that Lomotil or Imodium (trade names for diphenoxylate) are easily available in Turkey. They allow you to travel without constantly running to the bathroom, but do not kill the bug that ails you. Buscopan, also sold locally, is particularly good for stomach cramps, while Ge-Oral powder dissolved in pure water is an effective rehydration remedy. Turkish tap water is heavily chlorinated and usually drinkable, but it’s probably best to stick to bottled water, especially in İstanbul. Rural springs are labelled içilir, içilbelir or içme suyu (all meaning “potable”), or içilmez (not drinkable).
Particularly during the hot summer months, serious food poisoning is a possibility – even in the biggest cities and resorts, and especially in southeastern Turkey. In restaurants, avoid dishes that look as if they have been standing around, and make sure meat and fish are well grilled. Don’t, whatever you do, eat stuffed mussels in summer. If you’re struck down, try to let the bug run its course and drink lots of fluids; eating plain white rice and yoghurt also helps. Stubborn cases will need a course of antibiotics or Flagyl (metronidazole), the latter effective against giardia and protozoans as well as certain bacteria; pharmacists are trained to recognize symptoms and you don’t need a prescription.
Bites and stings
Mosquitoes are sometimes a problem, and since no good topical repellents are available locally, you should bring your own. At night mozzies are dispatched with locally sold incense coils (spiral tütsü) or an Esem Mat, a small, electrified tray that slowly vaporizes an odourless disc. Hotels and pansiyons in heavily infested areas often have mosquito screens on the windows.
Jellyfish are an occasional hazard along the Aegean shore. Sea urchins, whose spines easily detach if trodden on, are more ubiquitous; the splinters must be removed to prevent infection. Snakes and scorpions can lurk among the stones at archeological sites, and in nooks and crannies of ground-floor accommodation. There are two kinds of vipers (engerek in Turkish): the deadly, metre-long Ottoman viper, fortunately rare, and the smaller, more common and less dangerous asp viper. Neither is particularly aggressive unless disturbed; both are most commonly seen during mild spring days.
Certain ticks in Turkey carry the Crimean-Congo haemorragic fever (CCHF) virus, with hundreds of cases (and fatalities in two figures) annually, though the danger seems confined to rural areas of several provinces between Ankara and the Black Sea.
Although rare (one to two cases per year), rabies is another potential danger. Be wary of any animal that bites, scratches or licks you, particularly if it’s behaving erratically. If you do suspect you have been bitten by a rabid animal, wash the wound thoroughly (preferably with iodine) and seek medical attention immediately. Turkish cities are full of stray cats and dogs; dogs with a tag in their ear have been inoculated against rabies and other diseases and put back on the street with the blessing of the local authority.
Take It Easy
To stay healthy while you travel in Turkey, don’t overdo it. Eat and drink in moderation and get plenty of rest. If you’re not feeling well, rest in your hotel room rather than pushing onward. (If you push onward and get sicker you’ll have to rest even longer and you’ll lose even more travel time.)
Sun & Heat
In the warm months, use sunblock lotion regularly and wear a hat to avoid sunburn. Drink liquids regularly (at least every hour) in hot, dry weather—even if you don’t feel thirsty—to avoid dehydration. Surprisingly, mild dehydration can bring on stomach upsets, dizziness and diarrhea which are often mistaken for food ailments. The cure is simple: remember to drink a glass of water or a soft drink every hour!
Every Turkish city and town has pharmacies/chemists (eczane, EDJ-zah-NEH) where you can buy medicines, medical aids and equipment, including such items as soaps, bandages, toothpaste and condoms (prezervatif).
Although a doctor’s prescription is obviously best, it is often not required. In fact, pharmacists/chemists (usually both male and female in attendance) will often recommend specific medicines for simple maladies if you tell them your symptoms.
Prices for medicines are government controlled, and therefore usually low to moderate.
On Sundays and holidays, one or more eczane in a city will open as nöbetçi eczanesi (nur-BET-chee edj-zah-neh-see, duty pharmacy/chemist) because illness knows no holiday. Signs in the windows of closed pharmacies/chemists’ give the addresses of the nöbetçi ezcanesi‘s, but the open shops may be quite a distance from where you are, so you may need help finding one.
Contraception and female hygiene
International brands of birth control pills (doğum kontrol hapıları) are sold at pharmacies. Condoms (preservatif) are sold in most pharmacies and also supermarkets like Migros; don’t buy off street-carts, where stock may be tampered with or expired. Tampons are available from pharmacies and supermarkets at UK prices; Orkid is the adequate domestic brand of “sanitary towel”.
Minor complaints can be dealt with at a pharmacy (eczane); even the smallest town will have one. Turkish pharmacists may speak some English or German, and dispense medicines that would ordinarily require a prescription abroad. Prices for locally produced medicines are low, but it may be difficult to find exact equivalents to your home prescription. Pharmacies close on Sundays and (usually) 7pm–7am weekdays, but take turns to be a Nöbet(ci) (Duty) pharmacy. Each town or city will have one or more chemists open at night and on a Sunday; a duty roster is posted in Turkish in every chemist’s front window. Note that there are usually several pharmacies near major hospitals, one of which is often the nöbet(ci) pharmacy.
For more serious conditions. go to one of the public clinics (sağlık ocağı), or a hospital (hastane), indicated by a blue street sign with a large white “H” on it. Hospitals are either public (Devlet Hastane or SSK Hastanesi) or private (Özel Hastane). In terms of cutting bureaucracy and speed of treatment it is far better to use a private hospital, especially as many of the major ones have an English- (and often other languages) speaking assistant whose job is to deal with foreigners. Fees are lower than in northern Europe and North America but still substantial enough to make insurance cover essential (there are no reciprocal healthcare arrangements between Turkey and the EU). Expect to pay €35 and up to see a general doctor in a hospital, €90 and up to see a specialist consultant. The medical faculties of major universities – eg İstanbul, İzmir, Edirne, Antalya and Bursa – also have teaching hospitals, which are infinitely better than the state hospitals, but usually less expensive than the private ones. Summoning a doctor to your hotel room will cost about €50, plus medication delivered from a local pharmacy. If you’re on a package tour, the better companies will have arrangements with competent, English-speaking doctors and dentists in or near the resort. In a medical emergency, summon an ambulance by dialing t 112.
Beware of High Prices at Private Hospitals
However, I’ve received information that in some cases, some private hospitals pay commissions for referrals of foreign patients, and then recoup this cost by charging foreign patients very high prices for services.
For example, you rent an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or motorbike in Cappadocia, have an accident, and need ankle surgery. The vehicle rental company, hotel or other tourism business may urge you to go to a particular private hospital for treatment. The treatment you receive may be satisfactory, but the price may be very high—as much as US$15,000—and payable in cash immediately.
In Cappadocia the government hospital (Devlet Hastanesi) provides very good treatment at much lower rates—rates which may be less subject to reimbursement delay or rejection by your home country medical insurance organization.
In an emergency, you may need to go to the nearest hospital, but if you are able, it’s best to ask about prices for treatment before committing to it.
Your country’s consulate may be able to help with reliable references and recommendations for medical services.