Tips for Safe Travel in Asia

Great journeys come with hazards, but with these tips, sickness won't be one of them.

Asia encompasses both sophisticated cities and Third World conditions, so staying healthy requires a nuanced approach. “It’s really a question of urban versus rural travel,” says Dr. Bradley Connor of Travel Health Services, a clinic in New York that focuses on destination-specific travel precautions and treatments of travel-related illnesses. “If you’re heading to cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai or Seoul, make sure you’re caught up on your basic travel vaccines—shots for Hepatitis A and B, tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis—and a polio booster if you haven’t already had one.”

If you plan on backpacking through the jungles of Borneo, say, or any other rural area, dangers are both airborne and land-based. Your biggest enemy in the countryside is mosquitoes. Day-biting mosquitoes can carry both dengue fever and chikungunya, while nocturnal mosquitoes can carry malaria. Also transmitted by mosquitoes: Japanese encephalitis, found in many agricultural areas across Asia. Though rare—only 3 percent of mosquitoes are infected—it does carry a 50 percent mortality rate, so it’s best to get the vaccine. Rabies, a growing problem in Asia, is also a threat. “If you’re bitten by a rabid animal, you’ll have to get yourself to a medical center that can administer rabies immune globulin, and it’s not easy to find in rural Asia,” says Connor. “It can really change your trip plans quickly.” He recommends getting a three-dose pre-exposure vaccine.

Mosquitoes carrying dengue fever lurk in cities, too, especially around stagnant water that often pools at construction sites. There’s no vaccine for the disease, which causes a rash and flu-like symptoms for about a week, but insect repellent works well as a preventative.

As for the dreaded avian flu, things are quiet now—there hasn’t been a major outbreak in Asia since 2009—but the Centers for Disease Control still recommends avoiding poultry markets and backyard bird farms, while Connor advises staying up-to-date and even ahead of schedule on current flu shots, since tropical locations have a year-round flu season. In the States, flu shots can be available as early as August.

Travel Health Services is at 50 E. 69th St., New York; 212-734-3000;