It's a good idea to be immunized against typhoid and hepatitis A and B, and in winter, a flu vaccination is also advisable, especially if you're infection-prone or are a senior citizen. Speak with your physician and/or check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO) websites for health alerts, particularly if you're pregnant, traveling with children, or have a chronic illness.
Water from government mains satisfies WHO standards, but most locals don't drink water straight from the tap. Expect to pay HK$10 to HK$20 for a 1½-liter bottle of distilled or mineral water, or drink boiled tap water.
Condoms can help prevent most sexually transmitted diseases, but they aren't absolutely reliable, and their quality varies from country to country.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (800/232–4636 24-hour hotline in U.S. www.cdc.gov/travel.)
World Health Organization (www.who.int.)
Hong Kong–Specific Issues
Large-scale health threats in Hong Kong in recent years have included an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, intermittent fears over Influenza A virus subtype H5N1 (avian flu), and H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009. A massive awareness program stopped the spread of the illnesses, but it's worth checking to be sure there have been no new outbreaks.
SARS, also known as atypical pneumonia, is a respiratory illness caused by a strain of coronavirus that was first reported in parts of Asia in early 2003. Symptoms include a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C), shortness of breath, and other flulike symptoms. The disease is thought to spread by close person-to-person contact, particularly respiratory droplets and secretions transmitted through the eyes, nose, or mouth. To prevent SARS, the Hong Kong Health Department recommends maintaining good personal hygiene, washing hands frequently, and wearing a face mask in crowded public places. SARS hasn't returned to Hong Kong, but many experts believe that it or other contagious, upper-respiratory viruses will continue to be a seasonal health concern. It is also worth noting that the World Health Organization declared Hong Kong SARS-free in 2003.
Avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, is a form of influenza that affects birds (including poultry) but can be passed to humans. It causes initial flu symptoms, followed by respiratory and organ failure. Although rare, it's often lethal. The Hong Kong government now exercises strict control over poultry farms and markets, and there are signs warning against contact with birds. Pay heed to warnings, and make sure that any poultry or eggs you consume are well cooked.
In May 2009 Hong Kong's response level to Influenza A (H1N1), commonly known as swine flu, was raised from "serious" to "emergency" when a man traveling from Mexico through Shanghai to Hong Kong was confirmed to be the first case found in the city—and the first case in Asia. The patient was isolated in a hospital, while the 173-room Metropark Hotel in Wan Chai where he had been staying was quarantined for a week. In June 2009 all primary schools, kindergartens, and special schools were closed for two weeks; by November 2009 more than 32,300 people in Hong Kong had tested positive for the virus, of which the overwhelming majority were under the age of 14. In May 2010 the response level was lowered from "emergency" to "alert," with the public advised to stay vigilant and continue to practice good personal and environmental hygiene habits.
All government and most commercial buildings now have hand-sanitizing dispensers by the lifts, and doors and other frequently touched areas are cleaned regularly. You'll also see people wearing face masks when they're ill to avoid infecting others.
Local Health Information
Hong Kong Department of Health Hotline (2961–8989. www.dh.gov.hk.)
Hong Kong Travel Health Service (2961–8840 on Hong Kong Island; 2150–7235 in Kowloon. www.travelhealth.gov.hk.)
You can easily find most familiar over-the-counter medications (like aspirin and ibuprofen) in pharmacies such as Watsons or Mannings, and usually in supermarkets and convenience stores, too. Acetaminophen—or Tylenol—is often locally known as paracetamol. Oral contraceptives are also available without prescription at Chinese pharmacies.