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Croatia - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
The chances are you’ll never need them, but here are four phone numbers worth knowing: Tel: 92 for the police, 93 for fire, 94 for an ambulance and 9155 for search and rescue at sea.
There is no reciprocal healthcare agreement with EU countries, so make sure you have proper health insurance for major emergencies. Normally hospital treatment and some other medical and dental treatments are free. If you are travelling from the UK then you will need to show your passport, but if you are a UK resident but not a UK national then you will need a certificate of insurance from HM Customs Centre for Non-Residents.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, are pregnant or are travelling with children then you would be wise to establish healthcare facilities before arriving in Croatia. Larger hotels and tour company representatives are often able to assist, but failing that then contact the nearest British embassy or consulate for advice. A list of clinics is also provided by the International Society of Travel Medicine and can be found on its website.
For minor treatment, a visit to one of the ubiquitous pharmacies (ljekarna) should sort you out, and there’s very often someone who speaks some English. For more serious problems, get yourself to a clinic or hospital (klinika or bolnica).
There are no legal requirements for vaccinations for Croatia, but most doctors would advise immunisation against diphtheria, tetanus and polio (given as an all-in-one ten-yearly vaccine – Revaxis), and hepatitis A (e.g. Havrix Monodose or Avaxim). For longer trips (four weeks or more), or for those working in the medical field or with children, vaccination against hepatitis B is advised. Ideally, a course of three injections is required, the minimum time for which is over 21 days if you are 16 or over. For younger travellers the minimum course of three vaccinations is over two months.
Similarly, a course of rabies injections (three doses over a minimum of three weeks) is advisable for those working with animals, or spending a longer time in Croatia. Tuberculosis (TB) is spread through close respiratory contact in crowded conditions and may occasionally be spread through infected milk and milk products. Experts differ over whether a BCG vaccination against tuberculosis is useful in adults; discuss with your travel clinic.
Travellers planning to go rambling or trekking in the countryside during the spring–autumn period are at risk of tick-borne encephalitis. The ticks that transmit this potentially fatal disease live in long grass and overhanging tree branches. Precautions include wearing long trousers tucked into boots, and a hat. Using tick repellents and checking for ticks at the end of the day can also help. If you do find ticks, remove them as soon as possible (see opposite) and go to a doctor for treatment. Pre-exposure vaccine is in short supply in the UK, but, if you do manage to track some down, it’s worth having. Three doses can be given over two weeks if time is short. However, it’s still important to seek medical help in the event of a tick bite. If you use needles for any reason, you should bring a doctor’s note explaining why, and if you wear contact lenses or glasses, bring spares; repairs and replacements aren’t a problem, but can take time. It also does no harm at all to have a doctor’s and dentist’s check-up before you go – far easier at home than abroad.
You can drink the water if it’s from a public supply; however, the mineral content may well be different so could cause stomach upsets. It is always safer to drink and clean your teeth with bottled water.
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.
Croatia is safer and freer of crime than most EU countries, though the normal precautions you’d apply at home apply here, too – don’t be showy with money, jewellery or flashy possessions, and avoid the seedier or ill-lit parts of cities at night. You’re more likely to be robbed by fellow travellers than by Croats, so be especially careful in hostels, campsites and overnight trains or buses, and keep your valuables close to you and separate from the rest of your luggage.
Car theft, however, is increasingly prevalent, and foreign-registered cars – and especially expensive foreign-registered cars, such as Audis, BMWs and Mercedes – are attractive to thieves. Generally speaking, you wouldn’t expect problems along the coast, though be careful where you leave your car in any big city, and don’t leave your vehicle unattended for more than a day anywhere – it’s tantamount to painting a ‘Steal Me’ notice on it.
You’ll see lots of police around, and they have rather fearsome powers – freedom of dissension shouldn’t be taken for granted. The police carry out occasional spot checks on locals and foreigners alike for identification, so make sure you have your passport or identity card with you at all times. Otherwise, you’ll find the police friendly and helpful, though, apart from along the coast and in the capital, few speak any English.
If you’re driving, keep to the speed limits. There are an astonishing number of speed traps – especially along the Magistrala, the coast road running all the way from Opatija to Dubrovnik – and foreigners attract police attention. If you’re stopped for a traffic violation, you may find the police negotiate a lower penalty with you – the heavier fine for speeding, for example, may be traded down to the lower fine (payable in cash) for not wearing your seat belt.
Turning into a one-way street the wrong way in Dubrovnik, I was immediately stopped by the police and told to park the car in a spot reserved for the disabled. I was then given a choice of having my licence taken away and a 1,500kn fine (for driving the wrong way down a one-way street – unmarked as such, I might add), or paying the 150kn fine for parking in a disabled spot.