Laos Health Care and Vaccinations
* Not required for Vientiane.
** A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travellers arriving from infected areas.
Leave plenty of time before travelling to contact your GP – 2 months is best - to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. If you are unfortunate enough to fall sick or are in real need of medical attention it is best to travel to Vientiane where there are several reputable medical clinics. Any treatment must generally be paid for in cash. In Laos if you need emergency medical assistance, dial 195 (ambulance Ministry of Public Health) or 030 525 7239 (ambulance centre) to request an ambulance.
In urgent cases, repatriation to Thailand – especially for serious injuries and illnesses – is best. There you will find excellent healthcare at Bangkok Hospital, which specifically caters to medical tourists, or Phyathai Hospitals Group which has translators for 22 languages as well as a team of English-speaking staff. The hospitals in Bangkok are some of the best in the world, usually meeting or exceeding US standards. Udon Thani and Chiang Mai are closer, depending on your location in Laos and both have clinics better than you’ll find in Laos. Bear in mind that evacuation is complicated to organise and is very expensive.
If in doubt, a helpful concierge at one of the better hotels will probably be a good source of information as would most embassies in an emergency situation – note that there is no British consular representation in Laos – the closest is in Bangkok. Urgent consular assistance to British nationals is provided by the Australian Embassy in Vientiane.
Exercise caution when buying medicines from pharmacies in Laos, unfortunately, as with many developing countries in Asia, counterfeit drugs are very common. There are few if any laws preventing such trade and Laos is somewhat of a dumping ground for phony, replica goods – whether household items or medicines. Lastly, health insurance is essential and should include cover for air evacuation.
Food and Drink
All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Hepatitis E occurs and hepatitis B is highly endemic. Dengue fever, tuberculosis and Japanese encephalitis occur. Avoid swimming in fresh water as schistsomiasis and leptospirosis are present. Other than the capital – which is malaria-free but not dengue fever-free - assume that malaria is present everywhere in Laos – before leaving home check with your health clinic regarding which precautions to take as there are drug-resistant parasites around Laos. Bring DEET-laced insect repellent of at least 25% strength and sleep with a mosquito net and fan. Generally speaking - the mosquitoes that are active during daytime may be carrying dengue and those that are active at dawn and dusk, malaria.
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