Stomach flu, common flu, sprains, fractures, heart attacks, strokes, running out of medication, traffic accidents – these are among the most common reasons that Hong Kong travelers seek emergency help when traveling in China or overseas during their Chinese New Year holiday, International SOS Hong Kong says.
“While Chinese New Year is often a time when people take the opportunity to travel out of Hong Kong, just like any other peak travel period you may face difficulties on the road if you are unprepared and do not plan properly, “ says Dr Ahmed Fahmy, International SOS’ Medical Director for Hong Kong.
Top Medical Emergencies and What to Do
Dr Fahmy lists the top medical emergencies for Hong Kong travelers over the Chinese New Year and explains how you can stay safe and healthy while on the road during the holidays (modified). Surely, this advice would apply to others traveling this time of year.
- Acute Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu) – Always wash your hands with soap before eating, or use a hand sanitizing gel/lotion; select food that is thoroughly cooked while fresh and served very hot; avoid undercooked or raw meat, fish, or shellfish; avoid food sold by street vendors or other potentially unhygienic establishments; only eat raw fruit you have peeled yourself.
- Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (Common Flu) – Wash your hands frequently or use a hand sanitizing gel/lotion; when in cold countries, stay warm and do not spend too much time outdoors.
- Musculoskeletal Ailments (Aches, Sprains, and Bone Fractures) – Do not delay seeking medical advice as some of your injuries may worsen if proper management is not initiated at an early stage.
- Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Ailments (Heart Attack and Stroke) – If you have a pre-existing medical condition or lead a sedentary lifestyle, go for medical screening before going on vacations where you expect to undergo physical exertion, which your body may not be used to; if you have a chronic disease, make sure you carry the required medications.
- Running Out of Medication – If you rely on a medication for a chronic ailment, carry extra supplies and back-up information about the drugs you are prescribed; physically carry the medication with you while passing through immigration; carry a list of all your medications and their scientific names (brand names differ from country to country), as well as extra doses and copies of each prescription.
- Traffic Accidents – Be careful when driving after a long flight, especially in areas where you are unfamiliar; drowsiness coupled with a strange highway — or even driving on the “wrong” side of the road — is a recipe for disaster; take a cab or have transportation arranged ahead of time.
Okay, I'll add one of my own. Make sure you have travel insurance, and make sure you understand what is covered and what is not – there are often exclusions for activities that are considered dangerous – and what YOU think is dangerous, might not be what the folks that wrote the policy think is dangerous.
Last year I suffered a bicycling accident when traveling in Phuket, Thailand. While I wasn't seriously injured, I did need to be taken to the hospital and – upon my return to Hong Kong – I've had to undergo physical therapy, which is on going 10 months later.
Because I had to wait several weeks to get treatment at a public hospital, I had to seek treatment at a private clinic. Fortunately, I had travel insurance and was able to claim back all of my out of pocket expenses. Lost income is another matter …
Here's the rub. Before engaging in the activities at the hotel, I had to sign a release absolving the hotel from responsibility should I have an accident. This happened at the last minute, and I didn't have a chance to think about it or check my policy to see if I would be covered.
It would have been nice if they had given me this form to sign when I signed up for the activity (which was the day before) so I would have had the chance to think about it rather than thrusting it in my face when I showed up for the activity.
Better Safe Than Sorry
I didn't think anything of it at the time, but following the accident, I was panic stricken because 1.) I didn't know yet how serious my injuries would prove (there was a chance I would have to have surgery) and 2.) I didn't know if I would be covered by my policy.
Needless to say, I didn't even have a copy of the policy with me, so in addition to the pain and the restricted movement and the inablity to sleep, I had the added stress of not knowing what the financial implications were going to be.
Happily, I WAS covered, but if I had taken a hot air balloon ride, for example, I would not have been. Who would have thought that hot air ballooning would be considered dangerous?
In addition to having travel insurance, I would make sure to see if there were any exclusions before leaving home. I would write them down, lest an unanticipated "opportunity" arise – such as paragliding or riding in a hot air balloon.
And I would avoid any activities that would not be covered!