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Health & Medical Service in China

China is a country with a remarkably healthy population despite its climatic variations. However, with such a vast territory, standards of hygiene can and do vary from place to place. With this in mind, visitors should be aware of potential hazards and make proper preparation before coming.

Before Traveling

Consult your doctor in advance. Before traveling in China, you may need to consult your doctor for health advice or a thorough check up if you have not had one recently. Besides, Bring along a copy of your medical record. For those who take special medicine on a regular basis, make sure that you carry an adequate supply. You should also check your health insurance policy. If it does not provide for overseas visits, consider requesting your insurer extend the policy.

When Traveling

Good health is the premise of an enjoyable trip. Look after yourself carefully during the trip and try your best to minimize the risk of getting ill.

Personal hygiene

The sit-down toilet familiar to Westerners is rare in China in public areas. Hotels will generally have them in rooms, but in places where Westerners are scarce, expect to find squat toilets more often than not. Many private homes in urban areas now have sit down toilets, and one major benefit from having a local host is that they have clean bathrooms. As a rule of thumb, a western establishment such as McDonald's will have a western toilet.

Carry your own tissue paper as it is rarely provided. You can sometimes buy it from the money-taker at a public toilet; you can also buy it in bars, restaurants and Internet cafes for ¥2. Put used paper in the bucket next to the toilet; do not flush it away as it may block the often poor plumbing systems.

The Chinese tend to distrust the cleanliness of bathtubs. In hotels with fixed bathtubs, disposable plastic bathtub liners may be provided.

Wash your hands often with soap, or better carry some disposable disinfectant tissues (found in almost any department or cosmetics store), especially after having used public computers; the main cause for getting a cold or flu is through touching your face, especially the nose, with infected hands.

Food & drink

There are no widely enforced health regulations in restaurants. Restaurants generally prepare hot food when you order. Even in the smallest of restaurants, hot dishes are usually freshly prepared, instead of reheated, and rarely cause health problems. Most of the major cities have chain fast food places, and the hygiene in them tends to be good. Be cautious when buying food from street vendors. This is especially the case for meat or seafood products; they can be very unsafe, particularly during warm weather, as many vendors don't have refrigeration.

Chinese people do not drink water straight from the tap, and you should not either, even in cities. All hotels (and even boats!) provide either a thermos flask of boiled water in your room (refillable by your floor attendant) or a kettle you can use to do it yourself. Generally, tap water is safe to drink after boiling. Purified drinking water in bottles is available everywhere, and is generally quite cheap. ¥1 is normal for a small bottle, but it will be more in some places. Check that the seal on the cap is not broken. Beer, wine and soft drinks are also cheap and safe.

Health care

Most Chinese doctors and nurses speak no English, even in larger cities. However, medical staffs are in plentiful supply and hospital wait times are generally short.

Ensure that needles used for injections or any other procedure that requires breaking the skin are new and unused - insist on seeing the packet being broken open. In some parts of China it is acceptable to re-use needles, albeit after sterilization.

For acupuncture, although the disposable needles are quite common in mainland China, you can provide your own needles if you feel better. The disposable type, called Wujun zhenjiu zhen (Sterilized acupuncture needles), usually cost ¥10-20 per 100 needles and are available in many pharmacy. Note that there should be minimal to no bleeding when the needle is inserted and removed if the acupuncturist is sufficiently skilled.

While Traditional Chinese Medicine is widespread in China, regulation tends to be lax and it is not unheard of for Chinese physicians to prescribe herbs which are actually detrimental to one's health. Do some research, and ensure you have some trusted local friends to help you out if you wish to see a Chinese physician. Alternatively, head to Hong Kong or Taiwan instead, as the practice is better regulated there.

Medical Service

Basic medical service can be guaranteed in most Chinese cities, especially those with a large tourist market. However, quality of service may vary between geographic regions. The condition of medical facilities in the countryside is generally worse than in the city, where there are many critical care hospitals with advanced medical equipment and qualified doctors. Some of the superior hospitals have the capability to serve foreign patients in English. In Beijing, the United Family Hospitals and Clinics are well-known for providing quality medical care to tourists who do not speak Mandarin.

Most four and five-star hotels in China have infirmaries that can provide immediate medical attention, but they are only equipped to deal with minor illness and injury. If this medical service is unavailable where you are staying, you can call the reception desk for assistance, as they may be able to arrange for a physician to come directly to the hotel. It is strongly recommended that you go to a superior hospital for any illness you believe may be serious.

The best idea, of course, is to be healthy for your trip, and be prepared to handle rudimentary medical issues, like minor headaches, cuts, and blisters. Pack appropriate clothing and footwear, and make sure to bring an adequate supply of any medications you may currently be taking, as well as basic necessities such as aspirin or Tylenol. If you are traveling during the summer months, also make sure to bring sunscreen. Being healthy and prepared will help you avoid a hospital stay, and also make your trip more enjoyable!

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