In terms of infectious disease, the health risks in Australia are similar to Western Europe. However, Australia is unique in that it poses extra dangers in the form of extreme heat and the many creatures that live here. You also need to be vigilant when it comes to mosquitos and other biting insects that cause disease (although the risk is not as high as it is in other countries, like in Southeast Asia). It’s always a good idea to have comprehensive travel insurance that will cover you if anything goes wrong. In this article, we go through some of the biggest health risks you need to be aware of in Australia.
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Climate-related health risks
Because it’s such a large country, Australia has huge climate diversity. Very high temperatures are common, especially in the Outback and northern areas. The most important thing is to protect yourself from the sun. Remember that there is a hole in the ozone layer above Australia, that allows harmful rays to pass through the atmosphere more easily. This hole has recently gotten bigger due to the bush fires that took place in 2020.
Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water and don’t go outside without a hat and sunglasses. Avoid being in the sun as much as you can during the hottest times of the day (between noon and early afternoon). Beware that the reflection of UV rays by snow, water, metal or concrete increases the risk of sun damage. Remember that Australia has some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world – more than two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. So be vigilant.
Prolonged overexposure to heat, dehydration, and excessive stress in hot weather can quickly become a problem during a trip. Common medical conditions experienced by travellers are heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The symptoms of severe sunburn (beyond redness of skin) and heat stroke are quite similar. They include dizziness, fainting, nausea, prolonged headaches, and rapid heartbeat. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, rest in a cool place and drink plenty of water. If the symptoms persist, consult a doctor or call a local emergency number.
Food/water sanitation health risks
Australia does not really present any food health risks or health risks related to drinking tap water. Just be careful in remote areas and check that the water in the tanks is safe to drink. Be vigilant on hygiene and always wash your hands before eating or preparing food.
Health risks related to animals and insects
Koalas and kangaroos aren’t the only animals living in Australia! Pay special attention to mosquitoes. Although the risk is low, cases of dengue fever have been reported in northern Queensland. Mosquitoes are also carriers of the Ross River virus, Barmah Forest virus and Murray Valley encephalitis (a disease similar to Japanese encephalitis). These illnesses will cause you to have flu-like symptoms. Again, the risk of infection is very low but it is always a good idea to protect yourself against mosquito bites. Use citronella wristbands and bug sprays to stop them from spoiling your trip. Some regions have a high risk of mosquito bites and disease transmission particularly Western Australia and the Kimberley and Pilbara areas. Avoid spending time near stagnant water, which are breeding grounds for mosquitos.
You should also be careful of spiders. Some are poisonous and their bites can even be fatal if they are not treated quickly. The most infamous spider in Australia is the Redback, also known as the Red-backed Black Widow. They are small in size and not always visible to the naked eye. You will find them all over Australia.
Other dangerous animals such as sharks, crocodiles, jellyfish and snakes are also to be avoided! As an example, more than 800 snakebites were recorded each year between 2020 and 2022 in the state of Queensland. 2023 has already been a bad year for snake bites – 97 people were bitten in January alone. You might not come across any of these animals during your trip to Australia, but it’s important to be aware of them.
Always watch out for the famous yellow and black signs indicating the presence of certain animals. Be careful where you step and always follow swimming rules at the beach, swimming within the boundaries of shark and stinger nets etc. Some bathing areas are strictly prohibited due to the presence of sharks or jellyfish. Surfers, check in advance where is safe to go. Some free camps in the Northern Territory and Queensland are populated by crocodiles, so stay on your guard and read the comments of other travellers on Wikicamps for example.
Even if the risk is minimal, stay as far away as possible from bats, as some carry a virus similar to rabies.
What are the compulsory or recommended vaccines in Australia?
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, no vaccines were compulsory in Australia. However, some vaccines were strongly recommended to protect you against some health risks. From the beginning of 2020, Australia required vaccination against Covid for entry into the country. Currently in 2023, vaccination against Covid is no longer mandatory for travellers. You no longer need to wear a mask on flights, and you do not need proof of a negative Covid test to enter Australia. That being said, some airlines and sea travel operators may require a PCR test before departure. Check this well in advance of your trip on the Australian Government’s travel site.
As of March 2023, there are around 2700 cases of Covid per day throughout Australia. The majority of these cases are in NSW.
Recommended vaccines in Australia
To protect you during your trip to Austraia, it is strong recommended that you get vaccinated against:
- Tick-borne encephalitis (rickettsioses) if you plan to go to northern Australia or rural areas.
- Rabies if you plan to visit rural areas. Rabies still exists in Australia and is carried by dingoes and bats. You would have to be very unlucky to catch it but it’s best to be protected.
These vaccines are available at medical centres specialising in international travel. Bring a copy of your vaccination record and your international vaccination certificate with you on your trip to Australia, as well as a copy of your travel insurance cover.
Take care of yourself and stay safe on your journey. If you’re worried about your health, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor.
How to reduce health risks in Australia
Be well prepared before leaving your home country
A few precautionary measures can really make a difference. Book a check up with your doctor before you travel to Australia and consider getting the vaccines mentioned above.
It is imperative to have your vaccines up-to-date well before your departure (a few weeks before). Depending on the countries you’re going to visit, you may need to get additional vaccines (e.g. hepatitis, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis etc.) and even preventive treatments (e.g. malaria). These vaccines are available at medical centers specialising in international travel.
In some cases, you need to provide proof of vaccination. Remember to take a copy of your vaccination record and your international vaccination certificate with you, as well as a copy of your travel insurance cover.
Find out what the health risks in your specific destinations are and what you can do to prevent them. It’s best to speak to health professionals in international medical centres directly.
Pack everything you need during your trip to protect you. The minimum requirement is a first aid kit (dressings, disinfectant etc), but also insect repellents and sunscreen. If you are taking prescribed drugs, make sure you have your prescription in writing (and translated if necessary) to justify the possession of these drugs. Keep in mind that your medications may not be available where you are going.
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