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Staying Healthy

The Czech Republic presents no unusual health concerns and proof of vaccinations and inoculations is not required to enter the country. As with any destination, you could experience a minor bout of food poisoning (usually a short-lived case of an upset stomach or diarrhea). If you're planning to spend time in the bright sunshine, you should apply sunscreen. Mosquitoes and ticks are a problem in wooded areas, particularly near water, in the warmer months.

Pharmacies are abundant and sell both over-the-counter (OTC) medications like aspirin as well as prescription drugs. OTC medicines are not available in grocery stores, convenience stores, or gas stations but must be purchased at a licensed pharmacy. Stock up on prescription drugs before leaving home, as a Czech pharmacist may not recognize your doctor's prescription. In any event, use generic names instead of trade names when describing drugs (such as acetaminophen instead of Tylenol), as trade names change from market to market and may not be the same in the Czech Republic.

Common Ailments

Dietary Red Flags -- Czech food tends to be hearty and heavy and not advisable for anyone on a low-fat or low-cholesterol diet. Vegetarian restaurants are few and far between, but Prague has a couple of decent vegetarian options. Nearly any restaurant will offer omelets, salads, and items like fried cheese (smazený sýr), which may not necessarily be healthy but at least are nominally vegetarian.

Bugs, Bites & Other Wildlife Concerns -- Tick-bite encephalitis is a rare but serious disease caused by a bite from an infected tick. If you plan on camping or hiking in wilderness areas, you're best advised to get vaccinated. Spiders are common, but bites are infrequent. Snakes are practically unheard of.

What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home

Medical treatment in the Czech Republic is good and cost-effective. In an emergency, immediately call tel. 112 (general emergency). Most operators are trained to understand at least a little bit of English. Slowly explain the problem and your location, and an ambulance will come as quickly as possible to take you to the nearest hospital. Be sure to take along with you your passport as well as some means of payment (cash or credit card).

Note that U.S., Canadian, and Australian citizens may be required to prepay for any services required, even if they are carrying valid medical insurance. In this case, be sure to save all of the paperwork for later reimbursement. European Union citizens, including those from the U.K., are covered for emergency hospital treatment provided they have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

In any emergency situation, an ambulance would usually take you to the nearest available hospital. If you have a choice of which hospital to go to, ask for Nemocnice Na Homolce (Hospital Na Homolce) at Roentgenova 2, in the Prague district of Smíchov (tel. 257-271-111; www.homolka.cz). They maintain a high standard of medical care and are accustomed to dealing with foreigners.

If you are seeking nonurgent medical attention, practitioners in many fields can be found at the Canadian Medical Care center at Veleslavínská 1, Prague 6, Dejvice (tel. 235-360-133; www.cmcpraha.cz).

Safety

In Prague's center you'll feel generally safer than in most big cities, but always take common-sense precautions. Be aware of your immediate surroundings. Don't walk alone at night around Wenceslas Square -- one of the main areas for prostitution and where a lot of unexplainable loitering takes place. All visitors should be watchful of pickpockets in heavily touristed areas, especially on Charles Bridge, in Old Town Square, and in front of the main train station. Be especially wary on crowded buses, trams, and trains. Don't keep your wallet in a back pocket and don't flash a lot of cash or jewelry. Riding the metro or trams at night feels just as safe as during the day. Petty crime, especially car break-ins and bike theft, are serious problems and are underreported in official statistics. Don't leave valuable items in parked cars overnight or leave bikes, even if they're securely locked, unattended for more than a few minutes.

Drug laws tend to be more lenient than in other countries. Marijuana has been decriminalized; possession of a few marijuana cigarettes is a low-level misdemeanor and the police are usually tolerant about outdoor smoking (those most bars and clubs will not allow you to smoke pot indoors). Possession of larger amounts of cannabis or any amount of harder drugs can land you in big trouble. If you're caught, you are best off phoning your embassy to figure out your legal options.

Prostitution is technically legal, though it's only loosely regulated and potentially high-risk. Václavské námestí (Wenceslas Square), at night, is filled with touts pushing various "cabarets" and "nightclubs," code words for strip clubs and occasionally bordellos. If you choose to patronize one, don't take in lots of big bills with you and leave your credit cards back at the hotel. Most of the women working at these places are not likely to be Czechs, but Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians, and others, some brought here via organized crime networks. Public health checks are infrequent, if ever, so exercise extreme caution.

There are very few serious discrimination issues and most travelers won't have any problems. The only exception may be Roma (gypsies) or travelers with darker skin and dark hair who could conceivably be misidentified as Roma. Anti-Roma discrimination in the Czech Republic runs deep, and while such travelers are unlikely to meet with any overt violence, they might experience unfriendly treatment at the hand of shop-owners.

Czechs are remarkably tolerant when it comes to gays, and while same-sex hand-holding is rare, homosexuals are not likely to experience any overt discrimination.

Women traveling alone are not likely to experience any serious problems or unwanted attention. Women are generally safe walking alone at night, though of course bad things can happen anywhere and if there's any doubt, proper precautions should be taken.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.