Northern Belgium - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
There are no official vaccination requirements for entry into Flanders and no serious health issues to worry about. However, it is best to be up to date with the vaccinations recommended for Britain such as diphtheria, tetanus and polio – now given as the all-in-one vaccine Revaxis – that last for ten years. Other vaccinations would include hepatitis B for healthcare workers, plus influenza and pneumococcal vaccines for the elderly and those at special risk. If you are walking in long grass check yourself for ticks afterwards; they may carry Lyme disease which manifests as a rash accompanied by a fever, headache, neck stiffness, painful muscles and joints, swollen lymph glands, and fatigue.
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on www.istm.org. For other journey preparation information, consult www.travelhealthpro.org.uk (UK) or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/ (US). Information about various medications may be found on www.netdoctor.co.uk/travel. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
Flanders is a safe region to visit. Like most places there are instances of bag snatching, pick-pocketing and very rarely mugging and you should be vigilant if travelling or walking late at night in the vicinity of Brussels-Zuid/Bruxelles-Midi and Brussel-Noord/Bruxelles-Nord railway stations, and in the EU quarter. There have been instances of carjacking around Brussels-Zuid/Bruxelles-Midi too, so keep your doors locked when driving around this area.
As long as you take sensible precautions to conceal the location of your wallet, aren’t flashing huge sums of cash and don’t leave valuables exposed in the back seat of your car, you shouldn’t encounter any problems. It is probably a good idea to make photocopies of your important documents, and to store them separately from the originals.
The most frequently occurring drug in Flanders is cannabis. Currently, it is legal for over-18s to possess less than three grams of the plant for personal consumption, as long as they are not behaving anti-socially. However, those found to be under age or in possession of more than the specified amount will face fines and possibly prison sentences. Class A drugs are present, especially in towns like Antwerp or Brussels where there is an active party scene, but the penalties for possession and consumption of these are severe.