Thailand is generally a very safe destination in which to live. Many people are surprised to hear that the only vaccinations required annually or on a regular basis are the standard ones needed for most other countries in the world and include Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Diphtheria and Polio.
For a tropical country, Thailand does not suffer from huge infestations of mosquitoes and as a result, mosquito-borne diseases such as Malaria are very rare. Malaria is only present in those areas closest to the Burmese border in northernmost Thailand; it has been wiped out in Bangkok.
Dengue Fever, however, is of a concern. It is very rare, with about 1 in every 2000 people catching the disease, but there is no prevention other than avoiding mosquito bites. Symptoms usually include severe headaches, high fever, bone aches, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. There is also a rash of small red spots which is often used to diagnose it. If you suspect you have Dengue Fever, you must make go to the hospital so that you can be treated with the right medication. While most cases of Dengue Fever are rarely fatal, there is a separate strain known as Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. If medical fever is not sought in time, this strain could result in death. It is very rare and almost all fatalities are poor Thais who cannot afford medical care.
The most common illness in Thailand is nausea and diarrhoea which can be caused by the change in diet (eating a lot of spicy food), the water (which should not be drunk) and questionable food hygiene. Luckily these are not serious ailments, although if you are unwell you should always drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. It is not recommended not to drink the tap water. Though it’s assumed to be safe by officials, the taste is unpleasant and piping is not always very good. There is a very real risk of upsetting your insides. You should also be careful not to use ice with drinks if you don’t know the source.
With regards to food, you can never eliminate all risks. One thing that surprises many new people to Thailand is that street food is safe and very rarely gives problems. Street food is cooked fresh and hot and with a lot of spices, which kills bacteria. Your biggest risk of illness comes from buffets and food courts where food may lie for a long time after it has been cooked. Fresh fruit is readily served from street vendors and can be tasty, but be wary of vendors who do not cut the fruit using gloves.
A serious warning is to be very careful about eating shellfish in Thailand. It’s very common for expats to get sick from shellfish even if Thais never get sick. Stay away or eat at your own risk!
Flu’s and colds travel easily in Thailand because of the many air-conditioners. Many expats feel like they get sick a lot when first coming to Thailand, while their immune system adjusts to the new conditions. If you fear catching a virus, you can use a simple surgical mask in crowded air-conditioned areas.
One final issue is to be aware of is the strength of the sun. Sunburn is very unpleasant and sun stroke can make people very ill. Try to avoid the heat of the day (between 13:00 and 15:00) and always wear suntan lotion if you are sunbathing.
|Disease||Recommendation||When to see a doctor|
|Typhoid||Vaccination recommended||10 days before travel|
|Hepatitis A||Vaccination recommended||2 weeks before travel|
|Diphtheria||*Vaccination sometimes recommended||3 months before travel|
|Tuberculosis||*Vaccination sometimes recommended||3 months before travel|
|Hepatitis B||*Vaccination sometimes recommended||2 months before travel|
|Rabies||*Vaccination sometimes recommended||1 month before travel|
|Meningococcal meningitis||Not required|
|Cholera||*Vaccination sometimes recommended||2 weeks before travel|
|Yellow fever||Certificate of vaccination required if arriving from an infected area||10 days before travel|
|Japanese B encephalitis||*Vaccination sometimes recommended||1 month before travel|
|Tick-borne encephalitis||Not required|