80° BY THE SEA
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Health hazards in Fiji include the standard heat-induced problems (dehydration, prickly heat, heatstroke, fungal infections, heat exhaustion, and sunburn), stomach disorders (diarrhea and food poisoning), environmental hazards (coral cuts and jellyfish stings), and mosquito-transmitted diseases (including dengue fever). Although the list may seem long and full of peril, most people leave Fiji healthy, except for a few mosquito bites and mild sunburn.
The best offense, of course, is a good defense, so be prepared. The water in Fiji's major cities is generally safe to drink, but be cautious in the more remote areas. Boil water, drink bottled water, or use water purifying tablets, and use caution while brushing your teeth, drinking water while you shower, or eating ice cubes. Fruits and vegetables should be peeled, and be careful of uncooked meat.
Wash your hands frequently, and treat cuts with extra caution: a small skin puncture can quickly turn septic in the tropics. Wash the injury well, and treat with an antiseptic ointment. Keep the wound as dry as possible (so no bandages or Band-Aids). If the wound is starting to spread, or if it isn't healing, see a doctor.
With mosquitoes, the simplest solution is to keep as much skin covered as possible with long-sleeved shirts and trousers. Avoid perfumes or scented lotions, use mosquito repellent containing DEET, and use a mosquito net or coil when sleeping, if possible.
Health care in Fiji can seem a bit rustic, but most clinics and hospitals are clean and well-staffed. If you're experiencing a health problem, do not wait to return to your home country. You'll have to pay for any treatment up front, so make certain you have adequate health insurance. (If you need a prolonged hospital stay, often your insurance company can work something out with the local hospital.)
Pharmacies in Fiji carry most of the over-the-counter medications that you'll need for headaches, upset stomachs, minor aches and pains, and cuts and bruises. They also provide a selection of basic cosmetic and health care products (like shampoo and toothpaste), sunscreen, and mosquito repellent and coils. Most of the supplies are similar to those in the U.K., New Zealand, or Australia. (For example, Tylenol is called paracetomol.) If you can't find what you're looking for, or have any questions, your accommodation hosts should be able to help you. Make certain you stock up on anything you need before traveling to the outer islands, as supplies are more difficult to come by.
About six weeks before your departure to Fiji, make certain all your standard immunizations have been covered: influenza, chicken pox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, and typhoid. Also, note that a yellow fever certificate is required for all travelers (over one year of age) who are entering Fiji within 10 days of having stayed overnight in an area at risk from the disease.
Although diseases can be picked up anywhere at anytime, the only real threat in Fiji is dengue fever, a virus spread by mosquito bites. The fever causes headache and muscle pains, and danger signs include a rash and prolonged vomiting. There is no vaccine or prevention for dengue fever, and treatment includes rest, fluids, and paracetamol—not aspirin.
National Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA, 30333. 888/232–4636 international travelers' health line. www.cdc.gov/travel.)
World Health Organization (www.who.int.)