With Dr Felicity Nicholson
The health issues you will face here are not much different to those of most Western countries. There are no inoculations needed for entry, although it’s always wise to be up to date on your tetanus, which these days comes combined with diphtheria and polio. EU citizens are entitled to a certain level of free medical care (apply for an EHIC card before travelling), although proper health insurance is always advisable. Also be aware that ‘free’ health care in Greece doesn’t cover all you might expect: there are charges, generally small, for prescriptions, tests and, increasingly, check-ups. If you should need a stay in hospital, and if you don’t have a Greek family to supply food and comfort, do note that nursing care tends to be minimal.
Prescription medicines are widely available, but do bring along enough for your trip, together with your prescription. Pharmacists are well trained and able to prescribe an extensive amount of medication, although in some touristy areas, they might hesitate, fearful of being sued, and refer you to a doctor. Most areas are served by a health centre, which is generally staff ed around the clock and open for drop-in enquiries in the morning from 08.00. It’s first come, first served. As of late 2019, expect to pay all medical expenses up front (unless you have an EHIC card); papers will be supplied for you to be reim bursed by your insurance provider. If you think you have been ripped off , hang on to receipts.
Sun and heat
Don’t underestimate the mighty Greek sun. Even ignoring the possibility of skin cancer, sunburn can spoil any holiday and in serious cases can put you out of action for days. Wear a high-SPF sun cream and hat in the sun. Heatstroke is also a risk, so stay hydrated – always carry a bottle of water. Tap water is safe to drink, but if you have a delicate stomach, you may want to stick to bottled water.
Bites and stings
Between May and October, mosquitoes can be a major irritant, especially around the wetlands. Some people react badly to mosquito bites, but they are usually harmless. Th ere are, however, some more serious mosquito-borne diseases that are becoming more prevalent. Th ese include malaria and dengue fever, although at the time of writing they have been limited to southern Greece. In 2018 there was an unprecedented number of cases of West Nile Virus with more cases of encephalitis, meningitis and acute paralysis than would usually be expected. Normally only 1% of people have severe symptoms. Wild birds act as the reservoirs for the virus and the mosquitoes pick up the virus from feeding on their blood. The virus can infect humans and horses.
The Culex mosquitoes that carry the virus are more prevalent from dusk till dawn. The West Nile virus season tends to run from mid-June to November. Mosquitoes are most prevalent at dusk and can be eff ectively combated by sleeping under permethrin-impregnated bed nets or window screens, and plugin repellents or battery-operated repellents (the liquid ones work best and can be easily bought in supermarkets). If you are camping, you have to go with the smelly option; cheap, burnable coils work reasonably well, and a good spray-on repellent is worthwhile (look for a high DEET content: 50–55% is optimum). At the first sign of dusk, you can also thwart the little vampires by covering up in long-sleeved shirts and trousers. Th e Aedes mosquitoes that carry dengue fever are more prevalent during daylight hours so bite avoidance is paramount 24 hours a day.
When travelling in Greece take the same precautions you would at home. Do, however, take extra care on public transport, especially around Athens, where gangs of pickpockets have been reported. Any crime should be reported to the tourist police, who will have an English speaker on their staff. They can also be useful in disputes with hotel owners and taxi drivers. If you get into trouble, contact Tourist Legal Aid in Greece (tourist.legal), which has a network of English-speaking lawyers.
Forest fires are, unfortunately, a normal part of the Greek summer; always dispose of cigarettes and broken glass carefully in the countryside. Minor earthquakes are not uncommon; larger ones are much less common and modern Greek buildings are built to withstand them. If you do find yourself in a big one, then go outside into an open area if you can do so quickly and safely. If not, get under the sturdiest piece of furniture available. In the mountains, the biggest danger you’ll face are zealous sheepdogs, trained to ward off bears and wolves. Avoid livestock pens and herds of animals.
Women travellers, especially on their own, might find some male attention unwelcome, although this is much rarer than in the past. Nowadays such attention is generally confined to some staring and nosy questions.