Diseases and sicknesses are fear of many travelers and foreigners who live and work in Vietnam. High humidity in most of the regions, a complex system of rivers and channels huge garbage piles and poor drain systems in some areas so that Vietnam has many common diseases and sicknesses which are rare in other countries. In fact, you can be bitten by mosquitos or stray animals that carry deadly diseases when you are in Vietnam. Western and American people may not know too much about rabies, tuberculosis, dengue fever which are very popular in Vietnam. Here are 10+ most common diseases and illnesses in Vietnam and tips on preventing them.
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The symptoms of a cold include fever, runny nose, sneezing, headache, cough, sore throat. Cold is caused by over 100 different viruses, the incubation period is from a half of day to a few days, a cold lasts about 10 days. The average adult gets two or three colds a year and the average child may get up to eight colds. So that you may be familiar with this kind of disease which is usually harmless although might not feel that way. But the truth is, you are easily infected with viruses causing colds and cold may ruin your entire trip to Vietnam.
Top tips on preventing colds in Vietnam:
- Contacting with contaminated hands or surfaces through drops of infected saliva and secretions can make you infected. Top ways to prevent cold in Vietnam include washing your hand frequently and being careful at public restrooms.
- Hand washes are not always available in public restrooms, restaurants, entertainment places, attractions and other places in the countries. It is better to carry a hand sanitizer when you go out in Vietnam.
- Eating and drinking with contaminated dining wares can make you have a cold, so that you should not eat at street food stalls, drink stalls, restaurants and coffee shops where they do not wash plates, bowls, glasses, cups and others with dish washes but only in changes of water.
- Chefs and workers should wear disposable gloves when serving foods.
- It is better to choose soup-like foods, piping hot foods such as Phở, foods which do not involve vessels such as Banh mi.
- Bottled water and canned drinks are recommended.
- Never eat salads, fruits and raw foods at eateries where you still worry about food safety and hygiene.
- Do not drink or brush your teeth with tap water.
Read more about The ultimate guide to food safety in Vietnam.
Diarrhea (tiêu chảy)
Diarrhea is a common problem characterized by loose, watery stools three or more times in one day, or watery bowel movements each day. If the disease becomes more severe can progress to fast heart rate, decrease in responsiveness, loss of skin color, decreased urination.
An infection of the intestines due to parasite, bacteria, or virus, which is often acquired from contaminated food or water, is the most common cause of diarrhea. In order to decrease the probability of having diarrhea in Vietnam, you should also wash your hands, clean toilet seats at public restrooms using antibacterial wet tissues or similar things, choose foods and drinks, eateries and drinking places, do not digest tap water.
Seasonal flu (cúm)
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect noses, throats, sometimes lungs and can cause mild to severe illness. In Vietnam, flu are commonly caused by Influenza A H3N2, Influenza A H1N1, Influenza type B and Influenza type C viruses. More than 800,000 people have flu every year. In 2019, there are only 400,000 people infected with flu viruses. Flu caused by Influenza A H1N1 and Influenza type B are more popular in North Vietnam. The flu season in Vietnam is from April to September.
In Vietnam, a large number of people have not had flu vaccines so that you may be infected with flu. It is better to get the flu vaccine before your trip to Vietnam.
H1N1 flu (cúm H1N1)
Influenza A, also known as swine flu, is a contagious viral infection attacking the respiratory system. It is caused by Alphainfluenzavirus which is transmitted from birds and mammals, especially farmed poultry, through breathing and talking, touching contaminated surfaces or objects. It can cause widespread outbreaks and disease.
Mild cases can have coughing, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, fever, fatigue, body aches. The flu can be deadly to people who are above 65 years old, under 2 years old, pregnant and have weakened immune systems. After the outbreaks in 2009, the A/H1N1 virus has become one of the seasonal flu viruses and circulate in the winter. Follow the advice on prevention from cold to protect yourself from H1N1. Vaccines for H1N1 flu are available so that you can get it.
Perhaps, worms are the most common diseases in Vietnam, locals usually take deworming medication every six months. The number of cases has been decreased in recent years thanks to the development of the healthcare system and medical programs related to worms. Worms are abundant in the grounds, food, drinks including water. Dogs and cats are able to transmit some common worms such as toxocar. Gnathostoma is contracted by eating meats that have not been cooked well. The larvae may penetrate the skin and reach the blood, then heart, throat, lungs, intestines where they grow up. Eggs inside rectums of sufferers can grow up and become larvae. Patients in serious conditions may die due to the worms. According to National Institute of Malariology, Parasitology and Entomology (NIMPE) of Vietnam, half of the Vietnamese people were infected with worms in 2015. From 2013 to 2017, 65% of residents in the North Midlands and Highlands, 41% of residents in Red River Delta, 26% of residents in North Central and Central Coast, 28% of people in Central Highlands, 13% of residents in Southeastern Vietnam and 10% residents in Mekong Delta are infected with worms.
Do not forget to take anti-worm deworming medication every 3-6 months. Wash your hands as regularly as possible. They have listed the top raw foods containing worm eggs and larvae as follows: snails, pork, beef, buffalo meat, duck or chicken blood soup (tiết canh), vegetables and herbs. These raw foods must be cooked well before eating to avoid worm infections. Stay away from foods containing raw foods such as salads, beefsteak, Pho noodle soup with rare beef in Vietnam.
Rabies (bệnh dại)
Prior to 2020, rabies caused over 70 deaths in Vietnam each year. Rabies is a viral disease that cause brain’s inflammation in humans and some mammals. Initial symptoms include fever, headache, last symptoms include inflammation of the brain and meninges, paralysis, anxiety, insomnia, abnormal behavior, paranoia, terror, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations.
Lyssaviruses including rabies virus and Australian bat lyssavirus cause rabies. You are infected if you are bitten or scratched by an infected animal bites, or the saliva from an infected animal comes into contact with your nose, eyes, mouth. In Vietnam, you should stay away from stray animals such as dogs and cats who may carry rabies and accidentally attack you. Come to the nearest clinic right after being bitten by them.
Tropical diseases dengue fever, malaria, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis are transmitted by mosquito bites and rather popular in Vietnam. There are no vaccines for the first three diseases.
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Dengue fever (sốt xuất huyết)
In the first 10 months of 2019, over 200,000 people were infected with the dengue virus, 50 of them were dead. In North Vietnam, the annual peak period for dengue fever is from March to April, from the beginning of July to November when mosquitoes are abundant. In South Vietnam, there are always mosquitos transmitting dengue viruses so that you can have this disease at any time of the year. Knowing about the peak period of the disease, you can plan your trip better.
Dengue fever is caused by the dengue virus, symptoms include high fever, vomiting, muscle and joint pains, headache, and a characteristic skin rash. The disease is transmitted by female mosquitoes of species Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus – a lesser extent. Severe dengue fever can damage heart, liver or lungs, sudden blood pressure drop, severe bleeding and death. This tropical disease is more of a city disease. At current time, there is no vaccine but big hospitals in Vietnam are good at treating severe cases. Theoretically, patients have been recovered after 10 days on average.
Protecting yourself from mosquito bites is to prevent this deadly disease. The recommendation are as follows:
- Wear pale-colored and long clothes.
- Sleep under mosquito nets.
- Pack a travel-sized tube of mosquito repellent in your luggage and carry it when you go out or go to places where mosquitoes are present.
- Do not take aspirin which prevents blood from coagulating.
- Refresh water in the vase of fresh flowers every day if you like arranging flowers in your residence.
- Change water in lake or pond or put some fishes which eat mosquito larvae into the lake or pond in your residence.
Malaria (sốt rét)
Every year, there are about 30,000 Malaria cases in Vietnam. In mountain and forest areas, rural areas, provinces with lots of rivers and channels, people are most at risk. In Vietnam, the peak of the period for malaria is from April to May (at the beginning of the rainy season), from September to October (at the end of the rainy season). In South Vietnam, malaria is spread all around the year and there are more cases in the rainy season.
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease more common in rural areas in Vietnam. The disease is caused by Plasmodium parasites which are spread to humans through infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Malaria’s symptoms include high fever, shaking chills, profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, headache, abdominal pain, diarrhe. In rare cases, the small blood vessels leading to the brain can be blocked, causing seizures, brain damage and coma.
In order to prevent malaria when you are in Vietnam, you should wear pale-colored and long, use mosquito nets, mosquito repellent. Anti-mosquito clothes are a good idea. It is advised to go on a course of malaria medication before going to Vietnam.
There was a certain number of Vietnamese people having Chikungunya disease in recent years. Chikungunya is caused by chikungunya virus which is spread between people by Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti. The most common symptoms of Chikungunya are fever and joint pain, others include rash, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling. This disease does not often result in death, but rare patients are severe and disabling, some have had joint pains for months. Protecting yourself from mosquito bites, you are safe from Chikungunya disease.
Japanese Encephalitis (viêm não Nhật Bản)
In Vietnam, serious disease outbreaks of the Japanese Encephalitis virus are seen from May to July. Japanese Encephalitis is an infection of brain and caused by the Japanese Encephalitis virus which is also spread by Culex tritaeniorhynchus mosquitoes. Some cases have no symptoms and little symptoms, patients can have fever, headache, vomiting, confusion, difficulty moving, the inflammation in brain occasionally occurs and leads to death.
Fortunately, Japanese encephalitis vaccines have been produced popularly and you are better to receive this vaccine before coming to Vietnam. Expats can go to vaccine centers, medical centers of districts and hospitals for the vaccine.
Tuberculosis (lao phổi)
In 2020, Vietnam is still one of 30 highest burden Tuberculosis countries in the world. Vietnam had 174,000 new infected cases and 11,000 deaths due to Tuberculosis in 2018.
Tuberculosis is usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, generally affects lungs but also affects brain, kidney, spine and other parts of the human body. Almost infected patients do not have symptoms and are called latent. About 10% of the cases progress to active disease, which may lead to deaths.
Tuberculosis is spread through the air when active tuberculosis patients spit, speak, sneeze or cough. Washing your hand regularly, never eat foods on a plate served for many people at the same time without any utensils for getting foods. In order to prevent Tuberculosis infection, take similar tips on protecting yourself from cold in Vietnam.
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C are common in Vietnam, the diseases cause inflammation and affect the ability of liver to function. There were 11 million of Hepatitis B and C cases in Vietnam until July 2019, 90% of them had not known that they were infected. You can take Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B in order to avoid the infection by Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B viruses.
Hepatitis A (viêm gan A)
Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus. There is no need to treat mild case, most of the patients recover completely without liver damage. A few week after someone is infected, they can have symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, clay-colored bowel movements, low-grade fever, joint pain, yellow skin, white eyes and others which go away in a few weeks. In rare cases, the disease results in a severe illness and lasts many months.
The most popular sources of infection include contaminated food and water, close contact with an infected person or object. Be careful with your foods, drinks, tableware in Vietnam. You do not need to worry if you have got Hepatitis A vaccine.
Hepatitis B (viêm gan B)
Prior to July 2019, Vietnam had 10 million people who have been infected with Hepatitis B. This is a viral liver infection, caused by the Hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B cause acute or chronic disease, it is a short-term illness to some people but may become long-term for others. 2-6 % of adults infected Hepatitis B become chronic, 90% of infected infants become chronic cases.
The disease is transmitted when blood, semen or body fluids from an infected person enters someone’s body, it can happen through sharing needles, syringes, drug-injection equipment, doing tattoo and sexual contact. Just get vaccinated, you prevent this disease in your whole life.
Hepatitis C (viêm gan C)
Prior to July 2019, Vietnam had 1 million people who have been infected with Hepatitis B. Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C virus. It can cause both chronic and acute hepatitis, lead to serious liver damage. Being a major cause of liver cancer and unrecognized by infected people, Hepatitis C is known as a silent killer. There is currently no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
Similar to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C is also a viral liver infection, spread through blood and body fluids hand. Hepatitis B and C can be transmitted through shared nail clippers and manicure tools, tattoo equipment, and body piercing tools. Ensure they have properly cleaned and sterilized the equipment at tattoo and piercing shops in Vietnam.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
Prior to the beginning of 2020, the number of HIV patients in Vietnam was 230,000, 70% of them were male. In the first nine months of 2019, 7,700 new cases were reported, 1,428 patients were dead due to AIDS.
Human immunodeficiency virus attacks cells that help the body fight infection so that it makes an infected person vulnerable to other diseases and infections. There is no cure for HIV so that HIV patients have it for their whole life. HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) – a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition if untreated.
The virus is spread by contact with body fluids from and unprotected sex with an infected person with HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of HIV through shared tattooing or body piercing is considered low to negligible. However, you should check if the tools and equipment are sterilized in a proper way. Never having sex with a local you barely know in Vietnam. You must use a condom in any case. Some sexy workers, drug users and other people infected with HIV intentionally give other people the virus. They may put infected needles on benches on streets, parks and other public places or simply throw used needles on the ground. If you pierce or puncture your skin with a used needle, wash the wound using plenty of soap and running water, then run away to the nearest medical center or hospital.
Food poisoning (ngộ độc thứ ăn)
Food poisoning is a common illness caused by digesting contaminated foods (sometimes drinks). The illness does not usually become severe, most of the patients get better after a few days without treatment. The foods are most likely contaminated by viruses such as norovirus, bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. In 2017, there were 139 food poisonings, 3,868 people had food poisoning, 3 of them died.
Here are some of the top tips on how to avoid food poisoning in Vietnam:
- Drink bottled water, bottled and canned soft drinks, beers.
- Order hot drinks or cold drinks in bottles and cans instead of iced glasses of drinks.
- Never eat ice cream at untrusted shops.
- Choose thoroughly cooked foods that are still piping hot.
- Warm foods are not as safe as piping hot foods.
- Say no to uncooked food except for foods with wraps, peelable fruits, foods with shells.
- Vietnamese salads made from uncooked vegetables and herbs, sometimes uncooked fishes, shellfishes and rare beef.
- Be careful with seafood and snails.
What to do after food poisoning in Vietnam? If the symptoms are serious, go to see a doctor at a clinic or hospital, call an ambulance or go to an emergency room by yourself. If the symptoms are mild, you can stay at your residence or hotel. Stay hydrated, eat bland food, try natural remedies, avoid alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, dairy products, fatty foods, fried foods, foods high in fiber, seasoned foods, fruit juices.
Sunstroke, sunburn, dehydration (cảm nắng, cháy nắng, mất nước)
Sunstroke, sunburn, dehydration are significant problems for new arrivals to Vietnam where the predominantly air blocks are the equatorial and tropical blocks. Take the simple tips, you will be safe from the strong sun in Vietnam:
- The sudden change of temperature from an air-conditioned building to the street where it is extremely hot in the summer may harm your health.
- Carry a bottle of water in your bag (backpack) when you go out in the summer and drink water regularly.
- Eat soup-like foods such as noodle soups, soups, hot pots.
- Wear a hat or cap, a thin UV protection jacket, light-colored and long clothing, Apply sunscreen with the highest UV index when you go under the strong sun.
- Walk under the shade of trees.
Summary of 10+ most common diseases and illnesses in Vietnam
Before your arrival in Vietnam, you should take vaccines for Japanese Encephalitis, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, flu and take worm medicine. Food and drink safety and hygiene are very important to new arrivals. Do not forget to protect yourself from the harmful sunlight in Vietnam.
I have researched and listed Top 10+ International Hospitals and Clinics in Vietnam where the staff speak English fluently and are experienced on taking care of foreigners. Most of the hospitals and clinics are located in the centers of big cities. You can go there when you need to take medical care in Vietnam.
Here is the list of 50+ Medical Clinics and International Hospitals in Vietnam, including international and government-owned ones in most of the cities and provinces in Vietnam.