Health Advice for Sweden

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Health Advice for Sweden

Since November 2009, the pharmacy business has been deregulated. Certified pharmacies carry a green cross sign and the text Apotek. For small medical problems the pharmacy is sufficient. Major cities carry one pharmacy open at night. Many supermarkets carry non-prescription supplies such as band aid, antiseptics and painkillers.

Swedish health care is usually of a very high quality, but can be quite challenging for foreigners to receive. Most, but not all, medical clinics are state-owned, and their accessibility varies. Therefore, getting a time within a week at some medical centers could prove difficult. In case of a medical emergency, most provinces (and of course, the major cities) have a regional hospital with an around-the-clock emergency ward. However, if you are unlucky you can expect a long wait before getting medical attention.

Tap water in Sweden is of great quality, and contains close to zero bacteria. Water in mountain resorts might contain rust, and water on islands off the coast might be brackish, but it is still safe to drink. There is no real reason for buying bottled water in Sweden. Also, there is bottled water that doesn't meet the requirements to be used as tap water in Sweden.

There are few serious health risks in Sweden. Your primary concern especially in wintertime will be the cold, particularly if trekking or skiing in the northern parts. Northern Sweden is sparsely populated and, if heading out into the wilderness, it is imperative that you register your travel plans with a friend or the authorities so they can come looking for you if you fail to show up. Dress warmly in layers and bring along a good pair of sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, especially in the spring. In snowy mountains, avalanches might be a problem.

Dangerous Animals

A serious nuisance in summer are mosquitoes (myggor), hordes of which inhabit Sweden (particularly the north) in summer, especially after rain. While they do not carry malaria or other diseases, Swedish mosquitoes make a distinctive (and highly irritating) whining sound, and their bites are very itchy. As usual, mosquitoes are most active around dawn and sunset — which, in the land of the Midnight Sun, may mean most of the night in summer. There are many types of mosquito repellents available which can be bought from almost any shop. Other summer nuisances aregadflies (bromsar), whose painful but non-poisonous bites can leave a mark lasting for days, and wasps ( getingar) whose stings can be deadly if you're allergic. To minimize trouble from insects, use mosquito repellent, ensure your tent has good mosquito netting and bring proper medication if you know that you're allergic to wasp stings.

In southern Sweden and in northern coastal regions there are ticks (fästingar) which appear in summertime. They can transmit Lyme's disease (borreliosis) and more serious TBE (tick-borne encephalitis) through a bite. The risk areas for TBE are mainly the eastern parts of lake Mälaren and the Stockholm archipelago. A vaccination against TBE is available but the first two doses should be completed before a reliable protection can be expected. Borreliosis can be treated with antibiotics. Although incidents are relatively rare and not all ticks carry diseases, it's advisable to wear long trousers rather than shorts if you plan to walk through dense and/or tall grass areas (the usual habitat for ticks). You can buy special tick tweezers (fästingplockare) from the pharmacy that can be used to remove a tick safely if you happen to get bitten. You should remove the tick from your skin as quickly as possible and preferably with the tick tweezers to reduce the risks of getting an infection. If the tick bite starts to form red rings on the skin around it or if you experience other symptoms relating to the bite, you should go visit a doctor as soon as possible. Since ticks are black, they are more easily found if you wear bright clothes.

There's only one type of venomous snake in Sweden: the European adder (huggorm), which has a distinct zig-zag pattern on its back. The snake is not very common, but lives all over Sweden except for the mountains in the north and farmlands in the south. Although its bite hardly ever is life-threatening (except to small children and allergic people), one should be careful in summer, especially when walking in the forests or on open fields. If you are bitten by a snake, seek medical assistance. Killing, injuring or capturing a snake is illegal.

There are no really dangerous marine animals in Sweden, although the Greater weevers (Fjärsing) could be a nuisance; this is a small fish that hides in the sand near beaches, its back has several spikes that are poisonous and will hurt a lot if stepped on. Its poison could be as dangerous as that of the European adder and will likely cause more pain (this can be quite severe) than damage. There are also types of poisonous jellyfish that can be quite common near beaches. These are distinguished from normal non-poisonous types by their bright blue or red color. These types of jellyfish aren't really dangerous but their venom will hurt.

As for other dangerous wildlife, there's not much more than a few extremely rare encounters with brown bear (brunbjörn) and wolf (varg) in the wilderness. Both of these animals are listed as protected species. Contrary to popular belief abroad, there are no polar bears in Sweden, let alone polar bears walking city streets. If you encounter a brown bear in the woods, walk slowly away from it while talking loudly - the bear is most likely to feel threatened if you surprise it. In the unlikely event of a brown bear attacking you should play dead, protect your head and make yourself as small as possible. Or the opposite, there have been people surviving a brown bear encounter by screaming as loud as possible, jumping, and making oneself as big as possible. Bears are most likely to attack if they are injured, provoked by a dog, going to hibernate or protecting their cubs.

Bears in Sweden have killed no more than a handful of people since 1900. Wild Swedish wolves have not killed a human being since 1821. In general, one shouldn't worry about dangerous encounters with wild beasts in Sweden.

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