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Health threats present the most likely hazards a traveler could face when traveling to Europe, even when considering the recent rise in terrorism. The possibility of catching a common cold or becoming ill with flu-like symptoms is much higher than being caught in a terror attack. The strain that traveling and jet lag take on the body can begin to take its toll. Europe is safe destination when considering health threats but there are still several concerns to consider.

There are also some tips for staying healthy when traveling to consider. We will cover everything from vaccinations and eating healthy to medical emergencies and if purchasing a special medical insurance policy is a plan for you.

Health Threats in Europe

Can I Get Quality Care?

Europe is much like the United States when it comes to medical care. Hospitals and medical personnel are as competent as any that you will find at home. Many European doctors speak English, as well as many of the pharmacists, so communicating is not an issue.

Most countries in Europe have adopted universal health care systems. While the system has its faults, it does mean that everyone is taken care of, including travelers. If you need treatment while you are traveling, you will receive it. However, although the system is often referred to as “free healthcare”, it certainly doesn’t mean you won’t be required to pay. Healthcare costs depend on where you are and what treatment you need. Before you return home be sure to get a copy of all bills relating to any injuries or illnesses you had treated while traveling so you can file a claim with your insurance company to be reimbursed. If you purchased travel insurance, call the company immediately and report the injury. They can begin working with the hospital to get your bills paid.

Travel Insurance?

Purchasing travel insurance may be a good option for you but check with your insurance provider first because you could be covered by your existing plan already. Many insurance providers in the United States cover you when you are overseas but Medicare does not. Travel insurance can still be a good option even if you are covered. It can cover whatever expenses your plan doesn’t cover, such as deductibles.

The U.S. State Department occasionally issues travel warnings to at-risk countries. If you are injured while traveling to one of the at-risk countries, your insurance will likely not be honored.

Would I Likely Face a Health Threat?

Expecting a disaster often goes against the mindset of a traveler but Europe is filled with dangers. Besides a personal health issue there are also many pitfalls that seem to lurk around each corner. There are countless cobblestone streets that can cause one to fall. The greatest danger in Europe probably comes from driving, especially driving in Great Britain. Roundabouts are not common in the United States but are at every intersection in Europe. Traffic lights are often located in different locations than what American drivers are accustomed. Also, in Great Britain there is a danger of simply stepping in front of a vehicle when crossing a street by failing to look the right direction for oncoming traffic.

Emergency Situations

One of the top reasons to consider travel insurance is if you were to encounter an emergency situation. Emergency situations often involve costly procedures and/or overnight stays. Hospitals overseas will often work with your travel insurance carrier and work out the billing. However, they often will not work with your regular provider, causing you to pay up front and get reimbursed later. A trip to the doctor will also likely be an out-of-pocket expense as well until you return home and file a claim with your provider. Be sure to keep all documentation regarding any medical attention. Also, contact your provider as soon as possible to let them know you had to seek medical attention.

Tips & Considerations

Plan

Before you go, see your healthcare professional approximately 4-6 weeks before your departure to be sure you are up to date on your routine vaccinations. Talk to your doctor about your destination and determine what vaccines and medicines you will need. There are several factors you should consider such as where you are going, how long you will be there, and what activities you will be doing. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) Certain activities, such as attending crowded events, can increase the spread of infectious disease. No matter where you plan to go, you should get recommended vaccines to lower the chances for getting and spreading disease.”

Eat right

How a traveler eats can set them up to have strength to endure the strains of the trip or they can be the root of problems they may face. Often travelers eat less protein to stretch their travel dollars but protein helps you resist infection and rebuilds muscles. Jet lag and the lack of rest that it causes makes eating right essential to staying healthy for the duration of a vacation. The longer your trip, the more important diet becomes.

Also, ensure that your food is properly cooked when overseas. This isn’t as much of an issue in Europe but a good rule is to ensure all meat is well cooked. Learning the phrase “well done”, or having it written on a piece of paper, in the local language, is helpful when ordering food.

Stay clean

Foreign toilets can at times be an adventure. Every traveler has an interesting toilet story. Throughout most of Europe you’ll find toilets that are much like the toilets in the U.S., with some minor differences in the way they are flushed. But it’s not uncommon, especially in eastern Europe, to find a squat toilet. In some places, off the beaten path, you could find a squat toilet. A squat toilet simply consists of two porcelain footprints and a hole. Although these toilets are often daunting, they are not anymore unsanitary than any other public restroom. Bottom line it is crucial to wash your hands after every visit to a toilet.

It is important to keep your hands clean, using soap and warm water, as much as possible. You should consider packing hand sanitizer as well when traveling. 

Rest

Get enough sleep. Ensuring you get enough rest when traveling is often a difficult task but it is critical to keep your strength. Your body will be wanting sleep when you want to tour and wanting to eat when you are trying to sleep. Plan out your days and plan to rest, even catch an occasional nap.

First, ensure you leave home well rested and pack beforehand in order to be physically and mentally at ease on the date you depart. Also, rest on the flight, even consider taking a sleep aid in order to get some valuable rest. Adjust your mind to European time and don’t think about what time it is at home. Once you arrive, stay awake until a decent bedtime hour. Stay busy until bedtime on your first night and ignore the urge to nap. Getting on a normal sleep schedule on the first night will help you become adjusted much sooner. Finally, consider taking a sleep aid the first few nights in order to get 7-8 hours of good rest. That rest will give you much needed strength.

Arriving Home Feeling Unwell

Upon arriving home if you find that you are not feeling well make an appointment to see a doctor immediately. Be sure to inform your doctor about your trip, where you went, and what activities you took part in. Also tell your doctor if you encountered any animals that bit or scratched you. You will surely encounter jet lag upon your return but that usually only last for a day or two. Seek a doctor’s advice for anything lasting longer.

Bottom Line

Take precautions. Prepare the right way by seeing a doctor and ensuring you have the needed vaccinations. Plan your trip and add time in your schedule for rest. Consider an additional insurance plan and pack a few days beforehand to ensure you are mentally at ease when it’s time to leave. Also consider drinking juices high in vitamins, eat proteins, and ensure you stay clean. 

Most of all ensure that you are properly rested. Proper rest can give you the strength you need. Sleep deprivation can cause body fatigue, digestive problems, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and unstable blood pressure. Your body needs a full rest every night to function properly.

More Travel Threats in Europe?

Be sure to review our entire series on travel threats that you could face when traveling to Europe. We covered Foreign-born Islamic Extremists in Europe, Domestic Terrorism in Europe, as well as discussed the European Crime Threat.

Photo Credit: Mark Washburn