Most problems are easily avoided by following a few simple rules.
Public health standards are low in Egypt, with little government investment in programs to improve it. Eating in restaurants that do not regularly serve foreign clientele or drinking water that has not come from a well-sealed bottle is asking for a bout of traveler's diarrhea or worse (including cholera and hepatitis).
Most problems are easily avoided by following a few simple rules:
Only drink bottled water. If the water doesn't taste right, even if it was unsealed in front of you, send it back and get another.
Eat in restaurants with a high volume of foreigners whenever possible, particularly expats. Word gets around quickly when someone gets sick.
Avoid the muddy banks of the Nile and other waterways. Schistosomiasis, or bilharzia, a parasitic disease caused by flatworms that live close to shore, remains a problem in Egypt.
Heat exhaustion This is common, given the shadeless settings of most archaeological sites, as well as a lack of sanitary restrooms, which might lead you to drink less water than is required. Symptoms include headache, dizziness and tiredness and can progress to vomiting if untreated. Drink liquids (ideally sports drinks or water with rehydrating salts) before you’re thirsty and wear a hat to keep off the sun. Treat yourself to an air-con hotel if necessary.
Heatstroke A much more serious condition, caused by a breakdown in the body’s heat-regulating mechanism, that can cause death if untreated. This leads to irrational behaviour, a cessation of sweating and loss of consciousness. Rapid cooling with ice and water, plus intravenous fluid replacement, is required.
Insect bites and stings More annoying than toxic, but look out for sandflies on Mediterranean beaches, and mosquitoes. All bites are at risk of infection, so it’s better to avoid them in the first place, with a DEET-based repellent.
Rift Valley fever A rare haemorrhagic fever spread through blood, including from infected animals. It causes a flulike illness with fever, joint pains and occasionally more serious complications. Complete recovery is possible.
Schistosomiasis (bilharzia) An infection of the bowel and bladder caused by a freshwater fluke. It can be contracted through the skin. Avoid all stagnant water, canals and slow-running rivers. Symptoms include a transient fever and rash and, in advanced cases, blood in the stool or in the urine. A blood test can detect antibodies if you have been exposed, and treatment is then possible.
Travellers’ diarrhoea This and other mild food poisoning are virtually unavoidable, as food hygiene standards are not high. The best cure is rest, fluids (best with oral rehydration salts, sold as Rehydran in Egypt) and a cool environment. Antinal pills, a widely available stomach disinfectant, can also help. If symptoms persist more than 72 hours or are accompanied by fever, see a doctor.
Tuberculosis TB is common in Egypt, though nowhere near as rampant as in sub-Saharan Africa. The respiratory infection is spread through close contact and occasionally through milk or milk products. Risk is high only for people in teaching positions or health care.
Typhoid Spread through contaminated food or water and marked by fever or a pink rash on the abdomen.
Yellow fever Mosquito-borne and extremely rare in Egypt. If you need a vaccination for onward travel to Sudan, you can obtain it at the medical clinic in Terminal 1 of Cairo airport, or at the Giza governorate building (next to the Giza Court by the train station). It costs approximately E£100.
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