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Staying Healthy

Fiji poses no major health problems for most travelers, although it's a good idea to have your tetanus, hepatitis-A, and hepatitis-B vaccinations up-to-date.

If you have a chronic condition, check with your doctor before visiting the islands. For conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, or heart problems, wear a MedicAlert Identification Tag (tel. 800/825-3785; www.medicalert.org), which will alert doctors to your condition and give them access to your records through MedicAlert's 24-hour hot line.

Don't forget sunglasses and an extra pair of contact lenses or prescription glasses, though you can easily replace your contacts and prescription lenses in Nadi, Lautoka, and Suva.

Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) (tel. 716/754-4883 or, in Canada, 416/652-0137; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns in the countries you're visiting, and for lists of local, English-speaking doctors. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country and offers tips on food safety. Travel Health Online (www.tripprep.com), sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable medical clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).

Band-Aids -- Cuts, scratches, and all open sores should be treated promptly in the Tropics to avoid infection. I always carry a tube of antibacterial ointment and a small package of adhesive bandages such as Band-Aids.

Common Ailments

Among minor illnesses, Fiji has the common cold and occasional outbreaks of influenza and conjunctivitis (pink eye).

Tropical Illnesses -- Fiji has plenty of mosquitoes but they do not carry deadly endemic diseases such as malaria. From time to time the islands will experience an outbreak of dengue fever, a viral disease borne by the Ades aegypti mosquito, which lives indoors and bites only during daylight hours. Dengue seldom is fatal in adults, but you should take extra precautions to keep children from being bitten by mosquitoes if the disease is present during your visit. (Other precautions should be taken if you are traveling with children.)

Bugs, Bites and Other Wildlife Concerns -- Living among the friendly Fijians are some of the world's friendliest creatures, including the likes of ants, roaches, geckos, crabs, and insects.

Indeed, the Fijian islands have multitudes of mosquitoes, roaches, ants, houseflies, and other insects. Ants are omnipresent here, so don't leave crumbs or dirty dishes lying around your room. A few beaches and swampy areas also have invisible sand flies -- the dreaded "no-see-ums" or "no-nos" -- which bite the ankles around daybreak and dusk.

Insect repellent is widely available in most drug stores and groceries. The most effective contain a high percentage of "DEET" (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide).

I light a mosquito coil in my non-air-conditioned rooms at dusk in order to keep the pests from flying in, and I start another one at bedtime. Grocery stores throughout the islands carry these inexpensive coils. I have found the Fish brand coils, made by the appropriately named Blood Protection Company, to work best.

Multitudes of Animals -- Don't bother complaining to me about the multitude of dogs, chickens, pigs, and squawking myna birds running loose out here, even in the finest restaurants. They are as much a part of life as the islanders themselves. And don't be frightened by those little geckos (lizards) crawling around the rafters of even the most expensive bungalows. They're harmless to us humans but lethal to insects.

Sun Exposure -- The tropical sun in the islands can be brutal, even on what seems like an overcast day. Accordingly, it's important to use sunscreen whenever you're outdoors, especially at midday. This is particularly true for children.

HIV/AIDS -- Sexual relations before marriage -- heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual -- are more or less accepted in Fiji (abstinence campaigns fall on deaf ears here). Both male and female prostitution is common in Nadi and Suva. HIV is present in the islands, so if you intend to engage in sex with strangers, you should exercise at least the same caution in choosing them, and in practicing safe sex, as you would at home.

Be Careful in the Water -- Most of Fiji's marine creatures are harmless to humans, but you need to avoid some. Always seek local advice before snorkeling or swimming in a lagoon away from the hotel beaches. Many diving operators conduct snorkeling tours; if you don't know what you're doing, go with them.

Wash and apply a good antiseptic or antibacterial ointment to all coral cuts and scrapes as soon as possible.

Because coral cannot grow in fresh water, the flow of rivers and streams into the lagoon creates narrow channels known as passes through the reef. Currents can be very strong in the passes, so stay in the protected, shallow water of the inner lagoons.

Sharks are curious beasts that are attracted by bright objects such as watches and knives, so be careful what you wear in the water. Don't swim in areas where sewage or edible wastes are dumped, and never swim alone if you have any suspicion that sharks might be present. If you do see a shark, don't splash in the water or urinate. Calmly retreat and get out of the water as quickly as you can, without creating a disturbance.

Those round things on the rocks and reefs that look like pincushions are sea urchins, and their calcium spikes can be more painful than needles. A sea-urchin puncture can result in burning, aching, swelling, and discoloration (black or purple) around the area where the spines entered your skin. The best thing to do is to pull any protruding spines out. The body will absorb the spines within 24 hours to 3 weeks, or the remainder of the spines will work themselves out. In the meantime, take aspirin or other pain killers. Contrary to popular advice, do not urinate or pour vinegar on the embedded spines -- this will not help.

Jellyfish stings can hurt like the devil but are seldom life-threatening. You need to get any visible tentacles off your body right away, but not with your hands, unless you are wearing gloves. Use a stick or anything else that is handy. Then rinse the sting with salt- or fresh water, and apply ice to prevent swelling and to help control the pain. If you can find it at an island grocery store, Adolph's Meat Tenderizer is a great antidote.

The stone fish is so named because it looks like a piece of stone or coral as it lies buried in the sand on the lagoon bottom with only its back and 13 venomous spikes sticking out. Its venom can cause paralysis and even death. You'll know by the intense pain if you're stuck. Serum is available, so get to a hospital at once. Sea snakes, cone shells, crown-of-thorns starfish, moray eels, lionfish, and demon stingers also can be painful, if not deadly. The last thing any of these creatures wants to do is to tangle with a human, so keep your hands to yourself.

What to Do if You Get Sick Away from Home

Hospitals and clinics are widespread in Fiji, but the quality varies a great deal from place to place. You can get a broken bone set and a coral scrape tended, but treating more serious ailments likely will be beyond the capability of the local hospital.

You may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later. Medicare and Medicaid do not provide coverage for medical costs outside the U.S. Before leaving home, find out what medical services your health insurance covers. To protect yourself, consider buying medical travel insurance.

Very few health insurance plans pay for medical evacuation back to the U.S., the U.K., or Europe (which can cost $10,000 and up). A number of companies offer medical evacuation services anywhere in the world. If you're ever hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, MedjetAssist (tel. 800/527-7478; www.medjetassistance.com) will pick you up and fly you to the hospital of your choice virtually anywhere in the world in a medically equipped and staffed aircraft 24 hours day, 7 days a week. Annual memberships are $225 individual, $350 family; you can also purchase short-term memberships.

U.K. nationals will need a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to receive free or reduced-costs health benefits during a visit to a European Economic Area (EEA) country (European Union countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) or Switzerland. The European Health Insurance Card replaces the E111 form, which is no longer valid. For advice, ask at your local post office or see www.dh.gov.uk/travellers.

Fiji's main islands have drug stores that carry over-the-counter and prescription medications. Most medications can be purchased without a local prescription, but bring your own medications (in your carry-on luggage), in their original containers. Carry the generic name of medicines, since local pharmacies primarily carry medications manufactured in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.

Healthy Travels to You -- The following government websites offer up-to-date health-related travel advice.

  • Australia: www.dfat.gov.au/travel

  • Canada: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index_e.html

  • U.K.: www.dh.gov.uk/en/index.htm

  • U.S.: www.cdc.gov/travel

Safety

While international terrorism is still a threat throughout the world, Fiji is among the planet's safest destinations. Security procedures are in effect at Nadi International Airport, but once you're on the outer islands, you are unlikely to see a metal detector, nor is anyone likely to inspect your carry-on.

Although its military coups brought Fiji to the world's attention and caused great consternation on the part of the New Zealand and Australian governments, I saw little impact of the takeover during my recent visit. From a traveler's point of view, everything was working normally.

Although the December 2006 coup put a dent in crime, Fiji still has a serious problem with robberies and home invasions. Street crimes against tourists have been infrequent, but friends of mine who live here don't stroll off the busy streets after dark, especially in Suva, and they keep a sharp eye peeled everywhere in Fiji. For that matter, you should stay alert wherever you are after dusk.

Don't leave valuable items in your hotel room, in your rental car, or unattended anywhere.

Women should not wander alone on deserted beaches any time, since some Polynesian men may consider such behavior to be an invitation for instant amorous activity.

When heading outdoors, keep in mind that injuries often occur when people fail to follow instructions. Hike only in designated areas, swim and snorkel only where you see other people swimming and snorkeling, follow the marine charts if piloting your own boat, carry rain gear, and wear a life jacket when canoeing or rafting. Mountain weather can be fickle at any time. Watch out for sudden storms that can leave you drenched and send bolts of lightning your way.

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.