For the latest information about health issues affecting travelers, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's travel page at www.cdc.gov/travel or call the Travelers' Health Hotline at tel. 877/FYI-TRIP. The New York State Department of Health website (www.health.state.ny.us) is geared toward residents rather than visitors, but provides more specifics about issues concerning New York.
General Availability of Health Care -- There's no shortage of doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies in New York. But it's true that cities have more facilities than rural areas. The New York State Department of Health provides a list of hospitals by county at www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/hospital/main.htm.
Pharmacy chains like Rite Aid (www.riteaid.com), CVS (www.cvs.com), and Walgreens (www.walgreens.com) are easy to find should you need to fill or refill a prescription. Bring your doctor's telephone number with you so that the pharmacist can confirm the prescription with your doctor's office. It's also helpful to have the number of your home pharmacy on hand in case your doctor can't be reached.
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. The website www.tripprep.com, sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, Travel Health Online, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).
Bugs, Bites -- Mosquitoes are a familiar annoyance, particularly in late summer and early fall when New York's mosquito population peaks. They were upgraded from pest to public health issue, however, when the first U.S. case of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus was reported in New York City back in 1999. The virus can lead to a flulike bout of West Nile fever, or more serious diseases such as West Nile encephalitis or meningitis. Even if you get a few bites, though, the risk of illness is low. Not all mosquitoes carry the virus, and most people who are infected never become sick, although people over 50 are more susceptible. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, body ache, muscle weakness or tremors, and disorientation. If you think you've been infected, see a doctor right away or go to the emergency room.
The best defense is an effective bug repellent worn whenever you're in a mosquito-friendly environment -- this includes warm and wet urban areas as well as forests and fields. They can bite right through lightweight fabrics, so it's smart to give clothes a spritz, too. If possible, stay inside when mosquitoes are busiest: dawn, dusk, and early evening.
Ticks are common in the Northeast. They stay close to the ground and prefer damp, shady grass and stone walls. Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks, which are 2 millimeters or less in size (smaller than dog ticks or cattle ticks). If you've been bitten by a tick, there's no reason to assume you've contracted the disease. Not all ticks are carriers, and removing the offender within the first 36 hours usually prevents transmission of the harmful bacteria. Seek medical aid if symptoms develop, such as the trademark "bull's-eye" bruise or red rash that grows outward from the area of the bite, or other signs like joint pain, fever, fatigue, or facial paralysis. If left unchecked, Lyme disease can lead to serious complications affecting the heart or nervous system.
Other Wildlife Concerns -- New York's national and state parks are great places to glimpse wild creatures. This can be exciting; but remember that wild animals are unpredictable, and it's wise not to get too close.
Raccoons, foxes, skunks, and bats are the most likely to spread rabies. The virus can be transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, or by contact with the animal's saliva or nervous tissue through an unhealed cut. This means it's unsafe to poke around dead carcasses as well. If contact occurs, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and report to a doctor or hospital for treatment. Let a park ranger or other official know so the animal can be captured and tested for the disease.
Black bears are indigenous to the Adirondack, Catskill, and Allegheny mountains. Although they're naturally inclined to avoid humans, they'll often raid campsites in search of food. Tuck food away and clean up campsites after meals to keep them from sniffing around. Never feed or leave food for a bear. And never approach a baby bear. The mother bear is usually not far away and may perceive you as a threat to the cub. A useful source for black-bear safety tips is the Citizens for Responsible Wildlife Management website at www.responsiblewildlifemanagement.org/bear_safety.htm.
Deer are frequently sighted in upstate New York -- often crossing the road in front of your car. Hitting a deer can be an awful experience. Besides feeling as if you've just killed Bambi, you could also sustain major damage to your vehicle or yourself in the accident. Warning signs are posted at well-known deer crossings, but keep your eyes peeled in any wilderness area, especially during breeding season (Oct-Dec).
Extreme Weather Exposure -- It's not typically cold enough in New York for frostbite to take hold during normal activities like sightseeing. But if you plan to spend all day on the slopes or take long winter hikes, dress appropriately and warm up indoors periodically. This is especially important for kids -- they lose heat faster than adults and may not notice the cold if they're having fun. In summer, high temperatures and humidity combined with too much exercise can provoke heat illness. Stop and rest in the shade when you feel too hot, tired, or dehydrated, and always carry water with you.
What To Do If You Get Sick Away From Home
Except in the most rural areas, such as the Adirondack Mountains, you should have no trouble finding a doctor or getting prescriptions filled. Without proof of insurance, you pay as a walk-in in a hospital emergency room.
The crime rate in New York State has been steadily dropping for the past decade or more. New York City, once famous for muggings, is now -- improbably, some might say -- considered one of the safest large cities in the country. That said, it's never a good idea to take your safety for granted.
First and foremost, know where you're going. If you look lost or distracted, you may seem like an easy mark. Ask for directions at the front desk before leaving your hotel, and try not to be obvious about checking maps on the street. Be wary of strangers who offer to act as guides. They may expect you to tip them, or they may try to lead you to a secluded place where they can rob you. Try not to use the subway to get around late at night; opt for the bus or a taxi instead.
Keep on the lookout for thieves and pickpockets. Common tactics include bumping into you, accompanying you through a revolving door, or spilling something on your clothes to distract you. When withdrawing money from an ATM at a bank after hours, note who enters the foyer with you or who is already inside. If it doesn't seem safe, find another ATM.
At the hotel, keep the door locked and use the bolt when you're inside the room. Before you answer the door, make sure you know who it is. If it's an unexpected visit from room service or maintenance, don't be embarrassed to call the front desk to make sure it's legitimate. Remember that the staff has passkeys, and your room is frequently opened when you're not there. Use the in-room safe for cash, traveler's checks, and valuables like your jewelry or your laptop. If there's no safe in your room, inquire about using the hotel safe.
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, counteracting terrorism in New York has been a major concern. The police urge everyone to report unattended bags or suspicious-looking packages through the Statewide Public Security Tips Hotline at tel. 866/SAFE-NYS, or 888/NYC-SAFE in New York City.