Australia Health Care and Vaccinations
There are reciprocal health agreements with the UK, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden, which allow residents from these countries free hospital treatment as long as citizens carry their Medicare card. Prescribed medicines, ambulances and treatment at some doctors' surgeries must be paid for. Personal insurance for illness and accidents is highly recommended for all visitors, including the nationals of the countries listed above.
Some visitors seem to arrive in Australia expecting danger at every turn, which is far from necessary. The standard of health care is in general very high, and despite considerable parts of the country being in the tropics, diseases like malaria or yellow fever are unknown.
The picture becomes riskier when visiting the country’s most remote and unpopulated areas, where it’s likely to take considerable time for the emergency services to reach travellers. Self-reliance is an important skill to have, so it’s worth looking into wilderness first aid techniques.
Attacks by sharks, crocodiles and the like might draw plenty of headlines on the rare occasions they occur, but are by no means a common occurrence.
Food and Drink
Standards of hygiene in food preparation are very high. Milk is pasteurised and meat and vegetables are considered safe to eat. Care should be taken, however, if preparing 'bush tucker' in outback areas as some insects and fauna are highly poisonous unless properly cooked.
Outbreaks of dengue fever occur in northern Queensland, especially during the wet season (Oct-Mar), and Ross River fever virus is widespread in Australia. There have been reports of Murray Valley encephalitis in northern Australia and in the northwest of Western Australia. Corals, jellyfish and fresh water crocodiles may prove a hazard to the bather. Insectivorous and fruit-eating bats have been found to harbour a virus related to the rabies virus and should be avoided. Venomous snakes and spiders exist throughout Australia and can be extremely dangerous. You should seek medical assistance immediately if bitten.
Parts of Australia regularly experience dangerously high temperatures, so common sense is essential if spending significant time outdoors. Heat exhaustion is a hazard in many parts of the country. Ensure you have adequate sun protection, and heed the now famous government advice to ‘slip, slop, slap’ – that is, slip on a T-shirt, slop on some suncream and slap on a hat.
On the same note, it’s vital to ensure you have an adequate supply of drinking water. This isn’t much of an issue when you’re kicking back on a busy beach surrounded by shops, of course, but if you’re heading off on a long journey (be it by foot, by bike or by motor vehicle) water supply becomes hugely important.
Inexperienced surfers often see Australia as the ideal place to start learning. Some of the surf spots are world-class, but the surf itself can also be dangerously strong – watch out for undercurrents and powerful tides. In short, know your limitations, particularly at beaches without lifeguards.
Few foreigners associate Australia with extreme cold, but it also pays to be aware that parts of the south can become bitterly cold over the winter months. Hypothermia can be as big a risk here as in any other chilly climate.