Attendees at the 2008 Olympics a half-a-world away, Aug. 8-24,
will experience a cultural jolt and may have some concerns about
their health. Richard Lee, M.D., University at Buffalo professor of
medicine, is a specialist in geographic medicine and travels
frequently to China. He returned from there recently and in the
following Q&A offers suggestions for international travelers
headed for Beijing.
Q. Do I need special immunizations to go to China?
A. If you are going only to Beijing, you need the basic ones --
rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, polio. Hepatitis A -- infectious
hepatitis -- is still a problem all over China, so no raw oysters
or clams. If traveling beyond Beijing into the countryside, you
should be immunized against typhoid and hepatitis B.
Q. Can I drink the water?
A. Tap water isn't safe. Buy good bottled water. Showering and
bathing with tap water is OK, and brushing teeth, but no
Q. Should bird flu be a concern for people attending the
Olympics, or is it a problem only in the countryside?
A. Avian Flu H5N1 is still a problem in China -- mostly in the
south where it has become embedded in the poultry. It is not a big
risk in Beijing, but I would advise visitors to be wary about "wet
markets" where birds and animals -- and people -- are jammed
together, cheek by jowl. My advice is to not touch birds, or
uncooked bird flesh, or play with the cats that prowl these markets
(cats can carry the H5N1 virus).
Q. Chinese food is delicious, but are there ingredients to be
wary of ?
A. The Chinese cook food well, including street food, so if it's
cooked in front of you and it's hot, it's OK. Fruit on the street?
You don't know where it's been, but if it is unpeeled, it's OK. Be
cautious about salads. They probably are OK at a 5-star hotel, but
I'd rather eat stir-fried vegetables.
Q. I've heard the Chinese are fond of dog meat.
A. Dog meat is off the menu during the Olympics, because people
from outside China are offended, so you don't have to worry about
that, but there are cat specialty restaurants. Speaking of dogs,
there are lots of feral dogs and rabies is a problem. You can't
cozy-up to a dog. If one approaches you, pick up a rock or a
Q. News stories about Beijing's air quality are scary. Is the
air that bad?
A. The air quality can be awful. Sometimes there is a bright
sunny day, but the smog can be pretty bad. Indoor air is just as
bad, or worse. Tobacco still has a grip on China, and there are few
limitations on where people can smoke. If you have respiratory
problems requiring oxygen, don't go.
Q. China being a totalitarian state, do attendees need to be
careful what they say or do?
A. There will be rules about rowdy behavior, nationalistic
flags, banners, chants, etc., so entry to Olympic events will be
carefully policed. Be prepared to be bossed around. There will be
strict rules about what you can take on the subway and into the
stadium. You will want to follow the rules: A Chinese pokey is not
noted for its luxury. Other than that, there is little street crime
and Beijing generally is a pretty safe place. You can walk on the
streets at night without worry.
Q. What do you think visitors will find most surprising about
A. China has become fashion conscious! Elegant dress and trendy
dress are common. There are lots of expensive shops, but the
antique open air market and the Pearl Markets are fun, crowded and
less expensive. Bargaining is a necessity, and expected. Chinese
pharmacies of traditional medicine are also something to observe.
And if visitors do get sick, health care in Beijing can be superb.
Many of the specialty hospitals have UK, U.S. and European
Union-trained doctors and, with the burst in capital, Beijing has
state of the art imaging and technology.
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