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Healthcare in Thailand

Thailand is the focus for expatriates needing medical care in Cambodia Laos and Burma, due to the fact that Bangkok in particular has very good standards of healthcare in comparison with its neighbours. A fairly wide range of private medical facilities are available, some of which seem more like large hotels than hospitals.

Many doctors in these facilities have some kind of training in the West and have some command of the English language. There is also an element of medical tourism in Thailand due to the good value for money Thailand's healthcare system offers in comparison with more expensive countries.

Bangkok has the lion's share of top flight hospitals but if you're based in more rural locations, you will find it very hard to find a doctor that you can communicate effectively with as English is not widely spoken. That said, I have personally found hospitals in provincial capitals to have quite a high standard and many smaller local hospital tend to refer westerners to the bigger provincial centres for more complex ailments. Hospitals in Thailand are easy to spot due to the large green cross placed high up on the building.

However, some expats have reported poor organisation in Thailand's private hospitals, even with big name well known places in Bangkok and many patients prefer to go to Singapore for treatment, where medical care is considered more reliable and better organised. Others have reported private hospitals recommending treatment or hospital stays that were simply not necessary. This is only hearsay and cannot be confirmed. Pricing in big private hospitals is almost always fixed and you often pay in advance.

Emergency services are not what you would expect. Heart attack victims for example, have difficulty obtaining emergency treatment as Bangkok does not have an established emergency transport system to speak of.

Overall, Thailand offers fairly good standards in healthcare. The most famous expat hospital in Bangkok is Bumrungrad but you are certainly not limited to that choice as there are plenty to choose from. See our forum for more details.

Malaria

You've read all the horror stories of Jellyfish, Scorpions and Snakes. Now lets talk about something that really does pose a major health risk around the World. There are many myths and poor quality information about Malaria in Thailand. It is certainly present and there is a risk, which varies in different parts of the country.

In big cities like Bangkok, the risk is considered to be very low, as it the risk along coast roads, the main North/South train route and central Thailand. Major tourist areas, such as Pattaya, Phuket and Koh Samui pose little risk from Malaria.

However, there is an greater risk in border regions, particularly with Burma, Laos and Cambodia, especially forested areas.

It's is vital you practice good prevention measures at all times. When the Sun goes down every evening, Mosquitoes begin their attack on exposed skin, so always wear long sleeves and trousers after dusk. There is no vaccination against Malaria and your best chance of avoiding it is to reduce the number of Mosquito bites you receive. Always sleep under a Mosquito net, unless you are in a city hotel with closed windows and air conditioning.

Anti-malarial drugs are a good prevention measure in the short term and you should certainly consider their use but always seek up to date advice on the latest situation from experts for your destination, as drug resistance is now becoming common. Long term use of anti-malarial drugs can have significant side effects however and they are not generally recommended in Thailand due to the relatively low risk.

Malaria can develop quickly, or it can develop up to a year after exposure. If you have traveled to an area affected and you subsequently develop symptoms, such as a fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, seek medical advice promptly. Thailand is well served by medical facilities, even in the countryside and all have the ability to diagnose and treat Malaria.

Prophylaxis is no guarantee of prevention and often causes side effects. Remember the golden rule. . . prevent Mosquito bites.

Vaccination Requirements

If you found this page because you were wondering if you should have any vaccines before coming to Thailand, then you are probably more sensible than the countless individuals who don't bother... but live to regret their neglect of basic health precautions.

Unlike more developed nations, with cooler climates, Thailand does have various problems with infectious diseases and you would be wise to protect yourself and this is as straightforward as making sure your vaccinations are up to date.

Visit your doctor at least 6 weeks before you leave your home country and ask advice on the current situation in the areas you are likely to visit. Your doctor will be able to check your current immunity status and make the correct decision on boosters and additional cover. Long term visitors should consider all of these vaccines, whereas short term visitors may not require all of them.

Hepatitis A and B

Hepatitis A is recommended for everyone.

Hepatitis B damages the liver, causes Jaundice and may even lead to liver failure. It is spread through sexual intercourse, contaminated needles and other similar forms of contact. Recommended.

Japanese B Encephalitis

Japanese B Encephalitis is a very serious condition and can lead to permanent brain damage. We strongly recommend this vaccine, particularly if you will be traveling to rural areas and staying in the country for long periods. It is spread by Mosquitoes and if you are unable to avoid bites, you are at risk.

Rabies

Rabies is nearly always fatal. If you develop the symptoms, you have a death sentence... and as Thailand is affected by Rabies, we strongly recommend you have the pre-exposure vaccine, consisting of 3 doses injected into the deltoid muscle over a 3-4 week period. Even if you have this vaccine, the level of protection is not good and you should urgently seek medical help if you are bitten by an animal and post-exposure treatment should be seriously considered.

Typhoid

Typhoid is spread through contaminated food or water and causes septicemia. Recommended for everyone, particularly if you are visiting areas where you may not always be able to ensure good food hygiene. If you are only visiting for a short trip and restricting your meals to large, clean hotels, this vaccine may not be necessary.

Yellow Fever

If you are arriving in Thailand from an country affected by Yellow Fever, you will be required to present an International Certificate of Vaccination, stating you have had the correct immunization and this is only acceptable if issued by an approved Yellow Fever vaccination centre. If you are not arriving from an affected region, it's not necessarily recommended.

Others

Tetanus, Diphtheria. . . You should have a booster every 10 years to ensure good immunity.

HIV Testing

There's no denying that Thailand enjoys/endures/suffers something of a reputation for it's sexy nightlife. This is perhaps the reason one of the most common questions asked is Where can I get a HIV test in Bangkok?, often by people terrified because they had got drunk, slept with a lady of the night and forgot to use a condom. There are also a significant number of people who want to test their partners, who they might have just met in the bars.

Thailand is in the grips of an AIDS epidemic and as a result, is one of the global focal points of the fight against the spread of HIV. Bangkok is one of the easiest places to get tested for the disease and there are plenty of anonymous STD clinics, where you can pay in cash and be safe in the knowledge that you will not have to reveal your identity.

The big international hospitals also have facilities to test for HIV although you may have to register first, thus showing your identification (some people report that if you say you forgot your ID, they will test you anyway if you use an assumed name).

One of the most well known is Bumrungrad Hospital just off Sukhumvit Soi 3, where 24 hour testing is possible in their in house laboratory. Note that both antibody and antigen tests are available here.

Other hospitals include the Thai Red Cross near the Bangkok Snake Farm, The Bangkok Nursing Home, Chulalongkorn Hospital (all three in the Silom area)... There is also a small clinic style hospital called Klong Tan Hospital on Petburi Road... The Siriraj Hospital (a major research and teaching hospital)... and the Paolo Hospital very near Saphan Kwai BTS.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of places to test for HIV as there are many in Bangkok, including a number of small STD clinics. Also, just about any hospital should be able to test you. You can usually get the results in just a couple of hours.

Drinking Water

Despite the fact that the authorities have made efforts to make tap water meet World Health Organization standards, very few people drink tap water in Thailand, even the local population. Bottled water is widely used instead. Some people actually boil tap water before use but this will not remove chemical toxins, or remnants of whatever was there before boiling.

You should also be careful with ice, as freezing does not protect you from bacteria, viruses or chemicals. Brushing your teeth with tap water is considered to be safe, although those with very sensitive stomachs may occasionally experience problems.

In many areas, ageing pipework spoils the water and so it is a good idea to make use of cheap large containers of safe bottled water, which can be delivered to your home if necessary, a very convenient option if you're living here for some time. Big bottles are also available from most stores.

We recently purchased a water cooler from a BigC supermarket for ฿5000, the sort you would see in an office. The big 20 litre bottles of safe, treated drinking water are just ฿12 from our local store. It's very cost effective.

In restaurants, you will find the water to be generally safe. You can always buy small bottles if you like but make sure the seal has not been broken. However, you should be very careful with street vendors and street food stalls. The biggest risk is actually from the cleanliness of the glasses themselves. You can become very ill indeed if you are not careful. Drink directly from the bottle if you are in any doubt.

Don't worry too much about the ice that is served in cafes etc as they usually have the ice delivered to them from government inspected ice factories.


Disclaimer:- The information on this page is considered correct at the time of writing and you should always seek advice from your doctor for the most appropriate course of action for protecting your health. We accept no liability for misinterpretation of this page and no guarantee is made about the accuracy of the data.

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