Travelling to Egypt: Going Without Vaccinations, Food, Water, and Health Safety
If you are a frequent traveler you would most probably know what I am talking about. Many travelers ignore the vaccination part of the trip. I think this comes from anxiety, bad publicity surrounding vaccinations, ignorance, or just being lazy. When travelling to Egypt or going Without Vaccinations and Health safety precautions can be risky.
My biggest advice here is: do not skip vaccinations whether you are going to Egypt or any other country if a vaccination advisory is in place. Always check with your doctor, but don’t just skip vaccinations.
The least you should take are the highly recommended ones by the health authority in your country. My advice comes from personal experience.
So.. What are the shots necessary for egypt?
I am not a doctor, so any advice I am presenting here is from my personal experience as a frequent traveler and from advice I learned from authoritative sources in this regard. I have also contacted some friends who are doctors to make sure my recommendations are sound and safe.
In all cases, the medical condition, age, and current health status varies from one person to another. This is why it is a good idea to consult your doctor before taking any type of medication.
Ok, Let’s talk some shots for travel:
High, Medium, Low
|Conditions/ precautions/ side effects||Notes|
|Yellow Fever (not a risk in Egypt but required for travelers to Egypt from certain countries)||High but not for everyone.||Not for people allergic to eggs, chicken, or gelatin or children under 8 months or pregnant women. May cause aches, swelling , fever, soreness, or redness. Lifelong protection||Yellow Fever is not a risk in Egypt, but only required for people coming to Egypt from certain countries. Check *1 below for a list. You should take it in designated centers only and you will receive a certificate to present at airports to avoid quarantine|
|Polio (not a risk in Egypt but required for travelers to Egypt from certain countries)||High, not for everyone||Sore spot or shoulder. Usually protects for lifetime||Refer to *2 below for list countries that Egypt require vaccination certificate from.|
|Rabies||Low. Unless contact with animals is expected||May cause redness, swelling, soreness, itching, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, dizziness. Protects between 6 months and 2 years||Stay away from animals in Egypt especially street animals.|
|Measles and Rubella (German Measles)||Low||very safe and effective. Usually two doses are required for lifetime||If you never had it then take it. It is not very common in Egypt, but take no risks|
|Influenza||High||Effective anywhere in the world||Try to take it whenever possible|
|Hepatitis B||Medium||Soreness where the shot is given or fever can happen. Lasts 30 years||You can skip it if you are confident to come in contact with blood or other bodily fluids of others.|
|Hepatitis A||High||Soreness at the injection site. Requires 2 shots. Lasts 25 years||You should take this one|
|Typhoid Fever||Medium||Mild symptoms like: stomach pain, diarrhea, low fever, nausea, or headache.||-You may not neededd, but is is good preparation if You are going around and maybe trying some risky food.|
*1: Egypt requires people coming from the following countries to have a certificate for Yellow Fever vaccination certificate: AFRICA( Angola, Uganda, Togo, Sudan, South Sudan, Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Liberia, Kenya, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Ghana, Gambia, Gabon, Faso, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Benin. South America( Argentina, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, Suriname, Peru, Paraguay, Panama, Guyana, French Guiana, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina). Vaccination for Yellow Fever is given only at certified centers and a certificate is issued to be used at airports to avoid quarantine in case you are coming from one of the above countries. Always check the updated list of countries (some links provided below).
*2: Egypt requires people coming from the following countries to have a certificate for Polio certificate: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria. Otherwise, vaccination will be given at the airport before allowing entry to the country.
The above table gives a good idea about important vaccinations, but I personally refer to any of the following formal sites to make sure my information is up to date before traveling. It is always a good idea to be prepared and to take into consideration that some vaccinations take some time to become active:
Try to give yourself and your travel companions around 8 weeks ahead of travel date to properly plan for any potential vaccinations.
Drinking water in Egypt
Tap water in Egypt: Can you drink it? Boil it?
In short: Do not drink tap water if you don’t have to. Water is properly treated in Egypt at water treatment facilities. The problem starts when the water leaves these facilities until it arrives at the tap you will be using. Some pipes ar too old and some water tanks in buildings are not properly maintained. It is difficult to tell unless you know the building you are in very well.
In addition to that, the water treatment facilities pump up the chlorine percentage injected into the water to make sure it will be usable as drinking water given the circumstances. Many people in Egypt now rely on bottled water for drinking while people in low income neighborhoods still drink it anyway. The chlorine is another layer of risk. If you don’t have another option, it will not kill you, but it is not recommended.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t brush your teeth, shower, or use tap water on your body in general. It is safe for these types of uses. If you are cooking or making tea or herbs and will be boiling the water, it is perfectly fine. I use tap water to wash fruits or vegetables and never had a problem. I usually add a small spoon of baking soda with that. I had a friend who used to boil water and drink it because he did not want to use water bottles that are made out of plastic to avoid adding to the global pollution problem. I did not go that far.
Are swimming pools, lakes, and the Nile river safe for swimming?
In short: Do not take a swim in lakes, ponds, or the Nile river. This will put you in risks of contacting schistosomiasis. It is a well known issue in Egypt and can be contracted by swimming or wading into lakes, ponds, or river. This problem is a fresh water only problem, sea water is not an issue.
Swimming pools in reputable hotels, clubs,and aqua parks are usually well maintained and cleaned. Practice common sense and ask about the facility and have a look when planning to go for a splash. Swimming pools are generally safe to use in Egypt. Having said that, I would recommend not sipping or swallowing water from pools whether in Egypt or anywhere else.
Ice from tap water
Ice is served with many drinks or juices in restaurants or cafes in Egypt. It is usually made from tap water, which makes it unsafe. Do not consume ice and ask for your drink to be served without ice if you are not sure of the source of ice or to stay on the safe side. If ice machines in a hotel or a restaurant is well maintained and equipped with proper filters and purification devices, then it should be safe.
Bottled water in Egypt
Bottled water is sold under many brands in Egypt. Nestle is the biggest producer with Nestle water and Baraka water but these are my least favorites. I don’t like the taste for some reason. Flo is another brand usually produced with higher quality and comes at higher price. I do like Aquafina and Dasani brands. Bottled water is sometimes sold as ‘mineral’ water, but in most cases it is just normal water that has been properly purified. I buy my bottled water from large supermarket and I buy as much quantity as I can unless I am on the move to save some cost. Water sold in hotels, coffee shops, or airports is usually at exaggerated price. Here is a list of the most famous licensed brands:
- Siwa, Siwa Aman, Siwa Nahl
- Aqua Sky Mineral
- Baraka Alfa
Food Safety in Egypt
Avoiding food poisoning: What not to eat in Egypt
Heated and cooked food is your best friend. Avoid anything raw or any food that is served fresh such as salads and fruits. If you can’t give up your greens and fruits, wash it yourself. This is what I usually do. I take my vegetables and fruits in a plate from the buffet in the hotel I am staying in to my room and wash it myself (with tap water). In some cases, I take my chances in restaurants that I have tried several times and relatively trust the kitchen to serve well prepared and washed vegetables and fruits and I can enjoy a good fresh plate. We get a lot of food recalls and restaurant incidents in my home country too. It maybe a little bit riskier in Egypt, but I practice these same guidelines everywhere. Common sense is also needed or otherwise, I may not eat out at all.
Raw meat, Fish, and shellfish
On the other hand, stay away from raw meat, fish, or any type of raw seafood such as shellfish while in Egypt. I actually don’t eat this type of food anywhere, not just in Egypt. It has been causing a lot of health issues around the world.
Hotel and restaurant open buffets
This is usually one of my best experiences: trying food from different cuisines types that is available in open buffets in the hotels I stay in, or going to open buffets at different restaurants. I just try to be selective and avoid foods that look old or not kept hot properly.
Dry foods like breads, chips, chocolates, and similar foods are relatively safe. Canned food such as tuna or packaged food like biscuits and similar products are abundant everywhere in Egypt and relatively safe. If you feel something is not right or you see flies roaming around freely, bring this up to the management. In a reputable place or a an expensive hotel this should not be common or acceptable.
It is a subjective judgement in some cases: Egyptian style food in some famous restaurants
In some restaurants, Egyptian traditional food is served, and it comes with different plates of condiments, appetizers, and salads. With well known dishes such as tahini, baba ganoush, egyptian salad and dips, falafel, and fava beans. In my case, I like this type of food, and I go for it and I never had an issue. I just stick to good well known restaurants and I take advice from my Egyptian friends who know more about when it is relatively safe to go for this type of food and where.
Milk and dairy products
Most milk products that are sold in grocery stores or served in restaurants are coming from licensed milk packaging factories and are safe for us. In some rural areas or farms, farmers get milk directly from cows. If you come across unpasteurized milk, do not consume it. It must be boiled first. Egypt is famous for some types of dairy products such as egyptian white cheese which is close to feta cheese but creamy and rumi cheese which is like aged cheddar cheese. These products are sold in grocery stores and are usually very safe to eat.
Alcohol based drinks are not common merchandise for the public in Egypt due to religious reasons, but are available. Most bottled products are safe, but make sure it is from a reputable source and do not consume any alcohol based product with unknown source as it could be toxic.
Travellers’ diarrhea, Egyptian Tummy Bug, and possible cures:
There is a good possibility an infection will happen, but you can always reduce the odds by following safe food and drinking water guidelines and thoroughly washing your hands before touching food. Keep proper medication handy and rehydration solution to be prepared.
I don’t know if I should call Egyptian tummy bug, but many visitors to Egypt catch stomach upsetting diseases that range from chlorine side effects to more serious poisoning such as parasites, Typhoid or similar diseases. First time visitors are more susceptible to these infections. Frequent travellers and locals develop some level of immunity.
This above statement is not supported by any evidence that I am aware of, nor it is true for all types of infections because it is certainly not. My personal observations is that people who travel more build more resistance to these types of infections. I stay alert and follow all the above guidelines anyway.
Consult your doctor for recommended medicines you can take with you before travelling for these potential infections, because it is very likely to happen. If you need to consult someone in Egypt start with pharmacies. Pharmacists can be of great help and most of them can speak English. Pharmacists can prescribe medications in Egypt including Antibiotics. It is better to go to a doctor but you can get initial fast help in a pharmacy. I personally always keep a medication sold locally called ‘Antinal‘ as it worked wonders for me, but this is just me. You can ask a pharmacist about it in local pharmacies or for something similar.
Hygiene and personal care in Egypt
Wash your hands thoroughly and make sure you eat or drink from properly washed plates and utensils or use disposable ware. Big cities especially Cairo are dusty and humid and more frequent bathing and hand washing is a good idea. keep wet tissues with you and use it to clean your hands anywhere as needed. Public washrooms (if available) are not really recommended, but you can use the ones in restaurants if you have to.
Mosquitos and insects in Egypt
Like almost anywhere else in the world, mosquitoes are both annoying and a source of infection risk. Take mosquito repellent with you or buy it local. Always use repellents especially in outdoor areas. Not all areas have high mosquito density, but it is a good idea to have the repellent handy. Accuweather provides a mosquito measure for areas like Cairo.
I you are going to camp you can wear face net in high areas with mosquito activity and in general the more you cover your body by clothes, the better you will be protected from insect bites.
Flies are abundant almost everywhere in Egypt. Most hotels and resorts have a daily or weekly program to reduce insect like flies and mosquitos, but in all cases always cover any food you have and do not eat food that have been left exposed for a long period.
After the bite
It is a good idea to keep bite treatment cream or lotion. You can also have an ant-allergic that you are used to hand just in case. If you have a history of extreme allergic reaction, make sure you have epinephrine auto-injector or something similar and to have someone around you who can help you with the injection in case you needed help.
In Conclusion, Eat cooked food, drink bottled water, stay away from street food, do not swim in river Nile or freshwater lakes, eat only in reputable restaurants, and get proper vaccinations before you go to Egypt. Check general safety guidelines here. Also be alert to the dusty environment in some areas in Egypt that requires thorough hand washing. Travelling to Egypt or going Without Vaccinations and Health safety can be risky.