Fiji presents few major health issues for visitors. The most common problems are sunburn and/or heat stroke caused by overexposure to the tropical sun; fungal ear infections from swimming, which are easily cured with ear drops; mosquito or sand fly bites; and on rare occasions, fish poisoning.
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No vaccinations are required to enter Fiji unless you are coming from a yellow fever area, in which case you need to have an International Health Certificate indicating that you have been immunized against yellow fever sometime in the past ten years. Vaccination against Hepatitis A is often recommended by independent medical advisories. Isolated outbreaks of typhoid have occurred on Vanua Levu in recent years during the wet season.
Heat stroke is a serious and sometimes fatal condition that can result from long periods of exposure to high temperatures and high humidity. The wisest approach is to always wear a high SPF sunscreen (over 35), even in cloudy weather, not forgetting your lips, ears, feet and back; wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses; drink plenty of water, generally a litre every two hours, bearing in mind that room-temperature water is better for you in the tropics and that drinking alcohol is going to add to your dehydration; and cover up when out snorkelling by wearing a T-shirt to protect your back, still with sun cream on, and wear a long-sleeve shirt with a collar when out walking. Better still, stay in the shade.
Symptoms of heat stroke include nausea and general discomfort, fatigue, a high body temperature, severe headache, disorientation and/or little or no perspiration despite the heat. Eventually the sufferer can become delirious and fall into convulsions, and rapid medical treatment is essential. First aid is to seek shade, remove the victim’s clothing, wrap them in a cool, wet sheet or towels and fan around them.
Although urban tap water is filtered, chlorinated and safe to drink, travellers with sensitive stomachs should consider boiling it first or buying bottled water, especially after heavy rains when tap water can appear murky. In rural Viti Levu and the outer islands water is mostly sourced from natural springs which may appear extremely pure but can cause upset stomachs – most travellers are encouraged to buy bottled water or drink rain water which is usually supplied to guests free of charge from large tanks and which is less likely to be contaminated. Drinking from a pristine stream whilst out walking in the forests might be tempting but it’s not recommended as water-borne diseases such as bilharzia and leptospirosis can be present.
Bites and stings
Mosquitoes can easily spoil an otherwise perfect evening under the stars. They are most widespread during the wet season from December to April, although even during these times you may not be bothered by them. Most resorts spray gardens to keep mosquitoes at bay, but in less-developed parts of the islands they can be voracious, almost unbearable at dusk and dawn when it may be wise to stay indoors or sit by the sea, preferably facing a stiff wind. Most resorts have well-screened windows, but if these are not present, a mosquito net and/or mosquito repellent should be used. Mosquito nets are quite romantic to sleep under but do add to the stuffiness, especially in the humid nights of summer. The best type of repellent is the Good Knight electric mat heaters which cost around F$4 from supermarkets, plus F$1.50 for a packet of ten mats, one mat being sufficient per night. You’ll need constant electricity to use them and when this isn’t available, you may have to resort to mosquito coils, which can be slightly noxious on inhalation. Roll-on mosquito repellent works for both mosquitoes and sand flies on a temporary basis, and there are now brands that are more environmentally sensitive and safer on your skin – try Rid, an Australian product costing around F$10 a bottle and available from most pharmacies.
Sand flies can cause irritating rashes through their bites, usually spreading over a larger area than a mosquito bite, and are found not surprisingly along sandy beaches, appearing at dusk and dawn. Sea lice can also cause a small rash and appear on occasions in sandy-bottom shallow lagoons between December and April.
Ciguatera fish poisoning
Ciguatera fish poisoning is a fairly common ailment amongst rural Fijians and can be caught by consuming reef fish which have been feeding on toxic algae. Although seldom life-threatening, the poisoning causes nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and a numbness or tingling sensation often in the fingers; it usually commences within 24 hours of consumption. If you believe you have the symptoms of ciguatera, head straight to a doctor or local hospital where you can receive treatment via an injection. Although not confined to any particular fish, it is most common in older and larger reef fish, typically grouper, red snapper, Spanish mackerel and barracuda. Most villagers know which fish to avoid at certain times of the year.
Medical resources for travellers
US and Canada
CDC 1 877 394 8747, cdc.gov/travel. Official US government travel health site.
International Society of Travel Medicine 1 770 736 7060, istm.org. Has a full list of travel health clinics.
Canadian Society for International Health csih.org. Extensive list of travel health centres.
Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
Travellers’ Medical and Vaccination Centre 1300 658 844, tmvc.com.au. Lists travel clinics in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
UK and Ireland
Hospital for Tropical Diseases Travel Clinic 0845 155 5000 or 020 7387 4411, thehtd.org.
MASTA (Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad) masta.org or 0870 606 2782 for the nearest clinic.
Travel Medicine Services 028 9031 5220.
Tropical Medical Bureau Republic of Ireland 1850 487 674, tmb.ie.