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Bali bound? Five star resort or backpacking, you need this travel health advice

Whether you have been there loads of times and stay at the same lush Balinese retreat, or it’s your first time overseas with the family after an impulse buy of $88 flights with Jetstar, you may find it surprising to know EVERYONE needs to pack the same travel health information.


Because bacteria doesn’t discriminate – just ask channel 7 presenter Kylie Gillies, who fell severely ill alongside her entire family in Bali last year. Despite hiring a private chef at their Villa, Kylie admits it’s still “a country with different health standards and conditions to ours” which people need to be mindful of when travelling.”

The most common issues facing any travellers to Bali are usually associated with local hygiene, safe water and food, diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and road accidents.1

Sipping safety

While $3 cocktails can be a temptation hard to resist, spend the extra dollar or two and get the bottled variety with a seal that needs to be broken. Otherwise, you could be getting far more in your mojito or margarita than you bargained for – traveller’s diarrhoea, salmonella, hepatitis A, E and typhoid are just some of the infections found in contaminated food or drink.2 Also, ice actually preserves germs rather than kills them so best to drink straight from your bottled beverage.3

There another, even more sinister reason. What you think is a pure alcoholic spirit poured from a bottle of Smirnoff or Absolute Vodka could actually be a mix of harmful substances such as methanol – this chemical can cause severe illness, blindness, brain injury or in recent reports, even death.4 ‘Arak’ or ‘Bali Moonshine’ is a cheaper substitute bars use in place of or mixed with brand name spirits.

If you suspect you, a family member or friend may have been poisoned you need to act quickly and seek urgent medical attention.

Busy is best

Sampling street food can be fun for kids and adults alike, but stick to fruits and vegetables that require peeling (ie. No prepared fruit salad please!) AND ensure any food you eat is piping hot. Usually the busiest street carts indicate not only that the food is tasty, but also a high turnover means you will be getting the freshest food possible – just make sure you can see it cooked in front of you. Ever in doubt – don’t risk it!

Poor sanitation and hygiene standards mean that even the cuisine served in five star restaurants could be risky business if food is uncooked, undercooked or reheated. Steer clear of salads as ingredients may have been washed with contaminated water and sorry to disappoint, but it’s also widely recommended to avoid the following seafood: Oysters, clams, mussels, barbecued prawns or mudcrabs.5

The Travel Doctor has found 9 out of 10 travellers to South East Asia fall ill during their trip.Don’t let this be you!

Motorcycle madness

If you are travelling around city hubs or even smaller villages, know that a pedestrian crossing means little to a local. Whether you are riding a motorbike or just trying to cross a street, the road can be a dangerous place in Indonesia (yes, Bali is NOT a country but an island in Indonesia!) and you must use your head. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for young people aged 10 -24 years7 so ensure you look in all directions when stepping out onto the road and never assume drivers will stop at a red light. If you rent a scooter or another two-wheeled mode of transport, check your travel insurance covers this activity. Winding up in hospital is surely not on your schedule, but if an accident does happen, you need to know you are covered in the case of an emergency – medical repatriation could run into the hundreds of thousands8

Travel specific vaccinations

“I don’t need to see a doctor; I don’t plan to leave the resort.” If this sounds like you, unfortunately you have it wrong. Routine immunisations such as tetanus, diphtheria and measles should be checked to ensure you are up to date, along with travel specific vaccinations such as hepatitis A and typhoid. Unfortunately, measles are continuing to be identified in Australian travellers returning from places such as Bali, so it’s more important than ever to ensure the only things you bring back are happy snaps and novelty souvenirs.

Another one to watch out for is rabies.

While a red-eyed, salivating beast might come to mind, rabies can actually be hiding in that cute stray you pat on the way out of the hotel each morning. The number of dogs infected with rabies in Bali has been on the rise in recent years, so keep away from any dogs and advise your children not to play with animals – this includes monkeys and other mammals. If bitten or scratched you should immediately wash the wound with soap and water and then seek urgent medical attention. You can be vaccinated against rabies prior to your trip. However, even if you do receive pre-exposure vaccination, you should still get immediate medical treatment if you are bitten or scratched by an animal9.

Take a trip to see your doctor six to eight weeks before travelling and discuss your upcoming travel plans to get the best advice for your trip.

Bite prevention

Mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever occurs throughout Indonesia, including Bali, and is particularly common during the rainy season. There is no vaccination or specific treatment available for dengue, so you will need to practice bite prevention. While your five star hotel should be mozzie-proof, be sure to keep windows shut and take care to avoid insect bites, including using an insect repellent at all times and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothin10 .

While it may seem there’s a lot more to consider for Bali than which bikini you should pack, don’t let it be overwhelming. Plan well, read up on the latest travel advice on smartraveller, know the health basics and pack some common sense.

Now enjoy Bali!