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health care

Currents and rip-tides

Undertow currents are frequent along the entire coast in the Hikkaduwa region during the main season from November to April. If possible, you should never go swimming alone.

If you do end up in one of these currents you should immediately attempt to attract attention by waving. Don't try to swim against the current; instead, try to swim sideways out of the current - these currents are rarely wider than a four-lane motorway.

Due to the monsoon winds and rough seas, you can swim in protected bays from mid-April to mid-November. Don't even think about swimming at Hikkaduwa beach - it would be suicide!

Health precautions

Drinking water

Tap water is not drinking water. Only in some parts of the country is there a central water supply with chlorinated water. Usually, the water supply comes from a local well. If you're not accustomed to this water you risk spending a considerable part of your holiday on the toilet.

However, you can buy "Table Water", a non-carbonised mineral water, all over the country. As an alternative you can also drink "Soda". The carbon dioxide in soda has an anti-bacterial effect, preserving the water for some time after the bottle has been opened. If you do not intend to consume the water within half a day, it may be advisable to buy soda instead of table water.

Meals and drinks

In the tourist areas the hotels and restaurants are adjusted to European tastes. If you want spicy dishes you will have to order them specifically or go to one of the local "Rotti Shops".

Ice cubes in drinks do not present a health risk. The ice is made from boiled water or table water. Off the beaten tourist paths, however, we recommend that you avoid ice cubes.


Even in December the sun in Sri Lanka is higher in the sky than in central Europe in midsummer; and at the beginning of April it is straight overhead. Without any form of protection against the sun, your skin will burn and start to blister within 30 minutes in the noontime sun. Even when the skies are overcast, you risk painful sunburn after only a short exposure.

We recommend that you use a sun cream with UV factor of 16 to 24 at the beginning of your holiday. Should you still get sunburn, a sunblocker will come in useful.


If you stick to the southwest coast, which is not one of the main malaria areas, I may be worth considering whether it is entirely necessary to take anti-malaria drugs, since these drugs can have some very unpleasant side-effects.

There are other ways of protecting yourself, e.g. an anti-mosquito cream or rub, mosquito nets and mosquito coils which burn at night and keep the pests at bay.

The entire east coast, Kandy and northwards up to Anuradhapura are malaria areas. If you intend to stay in these areas you must ensure that you have adequate protection against mosquitoes. If you are staying in Sri Lanka for longer then you should always have an emergency packet of a drug like "Malarone" with you to take if you suspect that you might have been infected. Please speak to your physician about this before you travel.

Hepatitis A and B

The risk of a hepatitis infection is often underestimated. There is a strong risk of infection if you are travelling to the centre of the island where hygienic conditions leave a lot to be desired. Please speak to your physician about this before you travel.


This infection is not life-threatening but it is very, very unpleasant. You can get salmonella everywhere, even in the best hotels. The main sources are deep-frozen poultry and all kinds of shellfish - from small prawns through to lobster.

A typhus vaccination is recommended as prophylaxis which only very rarely shows side-effects. After vaccination, if you do become infected the worst symptoms are generally over in 6 to 7 hours. If you have not been vaccinated and you pick up an infection then be prepared to spend a week in bed with antibiotics.


In Sri Lanka more than 1,000 people die of rabies each year, although the government has a stringent anti-rabies campaign (which consists of capturing of stray dogs and vaccinating pet dogs at no cost).

If you have been bitten by a dog and are not 100 percent certain that the dog does not have rabies then seek medical treatment immediately.

Spiders, Snakes, etc.

None of the spiders native to Sri Lanka are dangerous. If you are bitten by a spider the worst you have to fear is a painful, red bite.

Scorpion stings are not life-threatening for adults and the discomfort disappears after a few hours. Children are more at risk; if a child is bitten by scorpion you should seek urgent medical attention.

The bite of the "Caruda" is not dangerous but it is highly unpleasant: these 10 - 50 cm, skin-coloured to reddish-brown centipedes will give you a bite that is very painful; it will swell up and will remain painfully tender for quite some time.

There are four types of venomous snakes in Sri Lanka whose bite can be fatal: cobra, krait and two types of viper. The bites of all other "poisonous" snakes will result in severe reactions around the bitten spot and in some cases possibly circulatory instability and partial paralysis, but these reactions will disappear again after a few hours.

However, it is highly unlikely that you will encounter a snake during your visit. If you do happen to meet one then avoid fast movements, never hit at it with a stick or throw a stone at it and give the snake space to retreat.

If you have been bitten then contact a doctor as fast as possible. Do not attempt to suck the poison out with your mouth; this simply moves the venom to your mouth where it is absorbed through the mucous membranes. Try to move as little as possible, apply a tourniquet to the bitten limb and drink as much water as possible to stabilize the circulatory system.


All state-owned hospitals will also treat foreigners. Treatment, apart from the medicines, is free, so you should make a donation after you have been treated. These donations are generally used to buy medicine for patients who would not otherwise be able to afford it. There are also private hospitals in most cities and larger towns.