Health Advice for China

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Health Advice for China

Personal Hygiene

Outside major cities, public washrooms vary from mildly unpleasant to utterly repulsive. In cities, it varies from place to place. High quality bathrooms can be found inside major tourist attractions (e.g., the Forbidden City), at international hotels, office buildings, and upper-class department stores. Washrooms in McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, or any of the coffee chains listed in the drink section are usually more or less clean. While those in common restaurants and hotels are barely acceptable, those in hotel rooms are generally very clean. Some public facilities are free, others cost from a few mao up to one or two kuai (¥1-2). Separate facilities are always provided for men (男 nán) and women (女 nǚ), but sometimes there are no doors on the front of the stalls.

The sit-down toilet familiar to Westerners is rare in China in public areas. Hotels will generally have them in rooms, but in places where Westerners are scarce, expect to find squat toilets more often than not. Many private homes in urban areas now have sit down toilets, and one major benefit from having a local host is that they have clean bathrooms. As a rule of thumb, a western establishment such as McDonald's will have a western toilet.

Carry your own tissue paper (卫生纸 wèishēngzhǐ, or 面纸 miànzhǐ) as it is rarely provided. You can sometimes buy it from the money-taker at a public toilet; you can also buy it in bars, restaurants and Internet cafes for ¥2. Put used paper in the bucket next to the toilet; do not flush it away as it may block the often poor plumbing systems.

The Chinese tend to distrust the cleanliness of bathtubs. In hotels with fixed bathtubs, disposable plastic bathtub liners may be provided.

Wash your hands often with soap, or better carry some disposable disinfectant tissues (found in almost any department or cosmetics store), especially after having used public computers; the main cause for getting a cold or flu is through touching your face, especially the nose, with infected hands.

Food and Drink

There are no widely enforced health regulations in restaurants. Restaurants generally prepare hot food when you order. Even in the smallest of restaurants, hot dishes are usually freshly prepared, instead of reheated, and rarely cause health problems. Most of the major cities have chain fast food places, and the hygiene in them tends to be good. Use common sense when buying food from street vendors. This is especially true for meat or seafood products; they can be very unsafe, particularly during warm weather, as many vendors don't have refrigeration.

A rule of thumb regarding street food is to make certain it is cooked thoroughly while you are watching; also, visit stalls frequented by locals, and look for plastic-wrapped disposable chopsticks. Minor stomach discomfort may still be experienced from street food and restaurant food alike, but is said to pass as one becomes accustomed to the local food. Ginger is effective against nausea, though it does not kill bacteria.

Even in the cities, Chinese people do not drink water straight from the tap, and you should not either. All hotels (even boats!) provide either a thermos flask of boiled water in your room (refillable by your floor attendant) or - more commonly - a kettle you can use to do it yourself. Generally, tap water is safe to drink after boiling. Purified drinking water in bottles is available everywhere, and is generally quite cheap. ¥1 is normal for a small bottle, but it will be more in some places. Check that the seal on the cap is not broken. Beer, wine and soft drinks are also cheap and safe.

Health Care

Drugs are generally available from a pharmacist without prescriptions. You can usually ask to see the instructions that came with the box. Western medicine is called xīyào (西药).

Common symptoms

  • Caught a cold: 感冒 gǎnmào
  • Fever: 发烧 fāshāo
  • Headache: 头痛 tóutòng
  • Stomach ache: 肚子痛 dùzǐtòng
  • Sore throat: 喉咙痛 hóulóngtòng
  • Cough: 咳嗽 késòu
  • Diarrhoea: 拉肚子 lādùzǐ

Most Chinese doctors and nurses speak no English, even in larger cities. However, medical staff are in plentiful supply and hospital wait times are generally short - usually less than 10 minutes at general clinics (门诊室 ménzhěnshì), and virtually no wait time at emergency rooms (急诊室 jízhěnshì).

Ensure that needles used for injections or any other procedure that requires breaking the skin are new and unused - insist on seeing the packet being broken open. In some parts of China it is acceptable to re-use needles, albeit after sterilization.

For acupuncture, although the disposable needles are quite common in mainland China, you can provide your own needles if you prefer. The disposable type, called Wujun zhenjiu zhen (无菌針灸針, Sterilized acupuncture needles), usually cost ¥10-20 per 100 needles and are available in many pharmacy. Note that there should be minimal to no bleeding when the needle is inserted and removed if the acupuncturist is sufficiently skilled.

While Traditional Chinese Medicine is widespread in China, regulation tends to be lax and it is not unheard of for Chinese physicians to prescribe herbs which are actually detrimental to one's health. Do some research and ensure you have some trusted local friends to help you out if you wish to see a Chinese physician. Alternatively, head to Hong Kong or Taiwan instead, as the practice is better regulated there.

If making more than a short trip to China, it may be a good idea to get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid as they can be spread via contaminated food.

Parts of southern China have mosquitoes which transmit malaria, dengue fever, etc.

China has only officially recognised the threat of an AIDS/HIV epidemic since 2001. According to the United Nations "China is currently experiencing one of the most rapidly expanding HIV epidemics in the world. Since 1998, the number of reported cases has increased by about 30% yearly. By 2010, China could have as many as 10 million infections and 260,000 orphans if without intervention"; Chinese President Hu Jintao has recently pledged to fight the spread of AIDS/HIV within China. Sex workers, clients of sex workers and injecting drug users are the most infected groups.

New diseases are sometimes a threat in China, particularly in its more densely populated parts. In 2003 China experienced a serious SARS outbreak; this is no longer considered a major threat. More recently, there have been cases of bird flu; avoid undercooked poultry or eggs. Partly as a result of the SARS experience, China's government has taken the global threat of Swine Flu very seriously. If you are running a fever or otherwise obviously ill, as of Summer 2009, it is possible you will face several days in quarantine upon entry into China. If you speak the local tongue or Standard Mandarin, DO NOT mention you are a foreigner.

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