With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Although there are no legal requirements for vaccinations when travelling to Bosnia and Herzegovina, visitors are advised to be immunised with hepatitis A vaccine (eg: Avaxim, Havrix Monodose). One shot gives protection for a year and a second booster shot (6–12 months after the first) extends the protection for at least 25 years. The vaccine should ideally be taken at least two weeks before travel, but can still be effective even if given the day before. It is also sensible to be up to date with tetanus, diphtheria and polio (all ten-yearly). For those who are intending to work in a medical setting or with children, or who are at risk through lifestyle, immunisation against hepatitis B is advised. Ideally, three doses of vaccine should be taken. There is a variety of schedules – the shortest being over 21 days for those aged 16 or over.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is considered high risk for rabies so any bite, scratch or saliva on skin from any warm-blooded mammal should be considered a risk. Wash the wound with soap and in running water for a good 15 minutes, then apply antiseptic and go for medical help. TB is common in BiH (there were 42 cases per 100,000 population, according to 2014 WHO statistics) and can be spread by respiratory droplets and through unpasteurised dairy products. Consider vaccination if you are under 16 and are spending 3 months or more living with the local population.
Despite the image of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s violent past it is actually one of the safest places in Europe. There is a very low rate of violent crime and most cases of violence are domestic. Walking the streets of any town or city at any time of day or night is a relatively safe bet, although take the usual precautions in the late evening as you would in any capital city. Driving in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a new experience for those used to the wide and well-paved roads of the West. Most of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s roads are only double lane and quite curvy due to the mountainous terrain. Road maintenance is getting better but don’t let a pot-hole surprise you. The locals tend to drive fast and have little fear of overtaking on a solid line.
The main concerns for travellers to Bosnia and Herzegovina are pickpockets on the main Ferhadija promenade and the tramways in Sarajevo and in Mostar, car thieves and landmines. The pickpockets and car thieves can be avoided by simple precautions and awareness. On trams in Sarajevo keep your purse close and your wallet in your front pocket. These people are quick and talented and you won’t even know that you’ve been had until later. Always lock your car door and if you have
an alarm, engage it.
There is definitely a threat and danger of landmines in BiH, but it does not mean that you cannot step off the asphalt. Highly populated areas are clear of mines and are perfectly safe to visit. The most significant danger is in the countryside where the former lines of confrontation were. These are not easily known by travellers so the best policy is – if you don’t know, don’t go. Many mountain ranges are also mined. There is plenty of safe hiking, walking, wandering and exploring to be done in Bosnia and Herzegovina – it’s simply not wise to do it alone. Take a guide or a local who knows the terrain.