With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Generally the standard of public health in Hungary is good, the tap water safe to drink and no vaccinations are legally required. However, it is wise to be up to date with routine vaccinations such as diphtheria, tetanus and polio. Hepatitis A should also be considered.
If you are planning to visit deep-forested areas outside the capital, consult your doctor about getting immunisation against encephalitis, which is carried by forest ticks (kullancs). Take precautions by using tick repellents, wearing long-sleeved clothing and a hat, and tucking trousers into boots. After a day in the forest it is important to check yourself for ticks, or get someone else to do it for you. For those travelling with children, concentrate particularly on checking their hair. The other primary irritant is the mosquito, which whines around the riverside on summer evenings. Cover exposed skin with a DEET-based insect repellent (rovarirtó) and they’ll feast on some other suckee.
For those who are going to be working in hospitals or in close contact with children, hepatitis B vaccination is recommended. Pre-exposure rabies vaccine (ideally three doses given over a minimum of 21 days) should also be considered for anyone who is specifically going to be working with animals.
Happily Hungary is a safe country with a low rate of violent crime. However, like many other European countries, incidents of pick-pocketing, mugging, car theft and overcharging with threats are sadly on the increase. The bulging tourist wallet is inevitably at greatest risk, so it is wise to stay vigilant when travelling on public transport, strolling in busy and built-up areas, shopping in markets and malls, and relaxing in restaurants and bars. As a general rule, don’t let your belongings out of your sight, try not to flash around valuable items and make use of your hotel safe.
Never walk the streets with large sums of cash, or – as we learnt to our cost – leave your cellphone in an unzipped shoulder bag as you peer at the bus timetable. There have been occasional instances of criminals going to more extreme lengths to extort money from tourists. Examples include conmen posing as policemen and demanding cash (if in any doubt, ask for the ‘officer’s’ credentials and insist on being taken to a police station with access to a translator), and thieves posing as motorists in distress, flagging down fellow drivers for assistance before stealing from them and driving away in their cars (be cautious about stopping to help apparent breakdowns). Theft of cars and the possessions inside them is not uncommon, so don’t tempt opportunists by leaving things of value on the seats.
Gentlemen, if an attractive young woman approaches and asks you to join her for a drink, consider the possibility that she is drawn by more than your irresistible masculine charms. Unwary, strutting men have lost both their swagger and their swag when, after tripping over their tongues into a seedy joint with a ‘consume girl’, they have been forced by burly bouncers to pay an extortionate price for the drinks.
On a more mundane level, check your bills in restaurants and bars carefully for ‘mistakes’ in the maths. Never order from a menu that does not display prices alongside its fare. Always use a recognised taxi firm, and agree a price or check the meter is cleared before climbing in. And resist dealing with unlicensed moneychangers in the street.
We must stress again that by Western standards Budapest is extremely safe, and you are unlikely to feel threatened. Please don’t have nightmares, do sleep tight. For up-to-date security information, check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at www.fco.gov.uk.
There is a typical central European machismo to Hungarian men, and they can hold attitudes that many in the West would consider sexist. Such thinking tends to manifest itself in high-blown compliments rather than anything more sinister. Women will find men unafraid to ‘check them out’ as they pass in the street and perhaps less inhibited in approaching them in bars than in more reserved cultures such as Britain; however, provided women take sensible precautions they should encounter no harassment.