There are several minor hazards in Egypt that you need to bear in mind. First, never underestimate the power of the sun. Even in the coolest months, there's a risk of sunburn and sunstroke. Stay out of the sun as much as possible, wear a hat when you are out and about, apply high-SPF sun cream regularly (international brands are available in pharmacies and supermarkets), and keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids (not alcohol).
Water quality is a concern. Never drink water from the tap water or from public fountains. Local people drink this water but it may contain microbes that your body isn't used to. Ice in five-star hotels should be produced using purified water, but if in doubt ask for drinks without ice (min gheir talg). Bottled water (mayya ma'daniya) is inexpensive and readily available. Remember to check that the seal on the bottle is intact before you open it.
If you are traveling with children, all this advice goes double. Children may not be aware that they are beginning to suffer from dehydration or sunstroke. Give them plenty to drink even if they don't complain of being thirsty, and keep their heads and skin covered.
Most people get some form of intestinal disturbance in Egypt. This can be a minor change in regularity put down to a change in water supply or the hot weather, but it's sometimes more serious and may be related to the ingestion of contaminated food or water. To minimize your risk, make sure the meat you eat is well cooked, avoid unpeeled fruits and vegetables, and avoid dairy products, unless the packaging looks as if it comes from a legitimate factory and is stored in a functional refrigerator. Ask about whether the salad in your hotel has been washed in purified water. Antinal is a locally produced remedy for traveler's diarrhea that's inexpensive and effective, but if symptoms become severe call a doctor immediately. The main danger here is dehydration, so if you cannot keep down liquids, don't hesitate to call for a doctor immediately.
Do not swim in the Nile, and don't drink the river water because of the risk of picking up waterborne parasites. Avoid all standing freshwater, as there is the risk of bilharzia (schistosomiasis).
There's little risk of malaria in Egypt—so there's no need to take antimalarial tablets—but it's worth protecting yourself from insect bites as some of these little critters do carry dengue fever or West Nile virus. You can buy anti-insect skin creams and sprays in pharmacies and tourist shops. It's easy to buy the antimosquito coils that burn to give off fumes that repel the insects.
Medical Insurance and Assistance
Consider buying trip insurance with medical-only coverage. Neither Medicare nor some private insurers cover medical expenses anywhere outside the United States. Medical-only policies typically reimburse you for medical care (excluding that related to preexisting conditions) and hospitalization abroad, and provide for evacuation. You still have to pay the bills and await reimbursement from the insurer, though.
Another option is to sign up with a medical-evacuation assistance company. A membership in one of these companies gets you doctor referrals, emergency evacuation or repatriation, 24-hour hotlines for medical consultation, and other assistance. International SOS Assistance Emergency and AirMed International provide evacuation services and medical referrals. MedjetAssist offers medical evacuation.
Medical Assistance Companies
AirMed International. www.airmed.com.
International SOS Assistance Emergency. www.internationalsos.com.
International Medical Group. 800/628–4664; www.imglobal.com.
International SOS. www.internationalsos.com.
Wallach & Company. 800/237–6615; 540/687–3166; www.wallach.com.
Shots and Vaccinations
The CDC recommends routine vaccinations as well as a vaccination against hepatitis A; it's also wise to have a vaccination against hepatitis B. The risk of typhoid is generally low, but if you plan to visit the Western Desert oases or stay in the countryside you should discuss this risk with your doctor; get a typhoid vaccination if you intend to take a multiday felucca trip on the Nile. Rabies is recommended for travelers spending a lot of time outdoors, especially in rural areas.
National Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. 877/394–8747; www.cdc.gov/travel.
World Health Organization. www.who.int.
Pharmacies in Egypt are well stocked—you can even buy antibiotics over the counter—and medications are quite inexpensive by U.S. standards, but not all product names will be the same as in the United States. Pharmacists are trained to help and will be able to offer you the generic drug you need or one that will deal with your symptoms. For headaches, Panadol (more generally known as acetaminophen in the United States) is the most common remedy.