Cambodian Health Information

Image of some medical equipment

Here is your guide to health information in Cambodia and how to stay healthy during your visit to the country. Staying healthy is largely about keeping your eyes open and practicing good hygiene. Listed below are some simple practices for Cambodian travel in general.

Drink only bottled water, and also use bottled water to clean your teeth.

Wash your hands before eating. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel (with at least 60% alcohol). Always try and use restaurants that look clean, and make sure that all food is properly cooked.

Avoid dairy products, unless you know they have been pasteurized. Avoid eating street food if you can. Fruit and vegetables should be washed or peeled. Put ice in your drinks only if it’s cubed or tubed (crushed ice may have been chipped off a big block that has been kept in unsanitary conditions).

While no vaccines are presently required, you may choose to take extra precautions. Many of the other big health threats are borne on the wings of the whining, pesky, hovering mosquito.

Protecting yourself against mosquito bites is crucial to preventing a variety of diseases, including malaria. This means using an effective repellent (with DEET, or one of the newer eucalyptus-based products) day and night, and sleeping under a net or in a screened or sealed room.

Wear long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt if you are in a risky area. Another problem in Cambodia can be the heat and the sun. Use a good sunscreen, cover your skin, try to stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, and keep up your fluid intake. If you can’t avoid being in the sun, make sure you wear a hat. Keep properly hydrated with water (beer, soda, or tea does not do the job).

It’s a good idea to carry rehydration salts with you. There are big problems with hepatitis and HIV in Cambodia (an estimated 40% of commercial sex workers are HIV-positive). If you are determined to put yourself in harm’s way, then be sure to practice safe sex.

For information on other ailments in Cambodia please read on here!

Mosquito Carried Diseases

MALARIA

This is a biggie in Southeast Asia and still a serious threat. There are four strains of malaria and all are life-threatening, cerebral malaria being the most serious. Malaria is caused by a one-cell parasite transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito. The parasite travels into the liver, lies dormant, and grows. Then symptoms occur when it enters the bloodstream. Symptoms include high fever, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and confusion. Initial symptoms may appear the same as for a number of other conditions, including flu.

If experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately. It may be advisable to take a prophylactic such as mefloquine (Lariam), the antibiotic doxycycline, or atovaquone/ proguanil (Malarone). The problem is that all these drugs have quite severe side effects. Larium can cause severe and distressing mood swings. Malarone can cause diarrhoea, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and weakness. Doxycycline may cause the skin to have an intense sensitivity to sunlight, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, and loss of appetite. The best thing you can do is to simply not get bitten.

This means covering all exposed areas of skin, especially at dawn and dusk when the malarial mosquitoes are at their most active. Use a good mosquito repellent with DEET (or one of the newer eucalyptus-based products) in areas where malaria is a problem. Sleep under a mosquito net. If you have air-conditioning make sure your room is properly sealed. Malaria is not a problem in major towns and cities and is restricted to remote jungle areas.

Unless you are travelling to these areas you are unlikely to have a problem. There is a very low malaria risk in the more remote quarters of the Angkor Wat complex, but not in Siem Reap town. Though you are not allowed to be around the temples at night (when malaria is a threat), you should be protected with repellent during your visit. As with landmines, malaria is mostly a problem in areas of former conflict such as Samlot or Phnom Malai. Most places that tourists visit are safe.

DENGUE FEVER

Like malaria, dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease. It is found in some parts of Laos, particularly at certain times of the year. No vaccination or prophylactic is available. Again the answer is simply to avoid getting bitten. HIV/AIDS AIDS is a very serious problem in Cambodia, especially among commercial sex workers.

Some educated estimates put the percentage of sex workers infected as high as 40%. Since the early ’90s, it has reached epidemic proportions. Transmittal occurs through infected blood, which primarily occurs from sexual contact, blood transfusions, or shared syringes. Avoid blood products unless absolutely necessary and practice sexual abstinence at best and safe sex as a next best.

JAPANESE ENCEPHALITIS

This is a mosquito-borne disease that is endemic to Southeast Asia. Symptoms include a headache, fever, nausea, upset stomach, and malaise. Vaccination is recommended, particularly if travelling in rural parts of the country. CHOLERA Cholera is a food- and waterborne disease. The main symptoms of infection are diarrhoea and intense dehydration. Occasionally there are outbreaks in some parts of the country and vaccination is recommended.

What to do if you get sick on holiday

Medical care in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville is rudimentary, to say the least. Most hospitals are not very good. There are private hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and if you are not in a major town you should head there. In both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, there are a number of GPs and small clinics with a good reputation.

They are very familiar with all the ailments common to Cambodia. You will have to pay upfront, but they will provide receipts for your medical insurance. Before your trip, make sure that you have adequate medical insurance that includes evacuation.

Medical care in Cambodia is quite medieval and often overstretched, and you really don’t want to be on the receiving end of it for very long. If something seriously untoward happens to you, then you will need to get to a hospital in Thailand. Medical care in Thailand is excellent and cheaper than the U.S. or Europe. Even so, for anything serious, bills can mount up to thousands of dollars quite quickly and you will need to be able to cover that.

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