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Medical FAQ

MEDICAL FAQ

Disclaimer: The information contained herein is based on our own personal experiences and opinions and is not a substitute for professional medical or legal advice. SUNTRAVEL SDN BHD is not responsible for any error or omission.

GENERAL HEALTH CARE

What Vaccinations Do I Need?

Generally, whatever your doctor advises. Assuming you have had all the common childhood vaccinations and that your boosters are up to date, you should be just fine. However, some doctors recommend additional vaccination against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid and (if you are spending extended periods in rural areas) Japanese Encephalitis. Rabies vaccination is NOT required; the WHO recognizes the island of Borneo as rabies-free, and the last human case in Peninsular Malaysia was in the 1970s.

Can I Drink the Water?

Yes and no. Tap water is treated throughout Sarawak and Sabah, but not necessarily in Indonesia. Nevertheless, even treated tap water can cause stomach upsets if you are unused to it. Outside urban areas, all water supplied to our guests is either bottled or boiled. We recommend you buy bottled drinking water to carry with you, which is cheap and widely available. Ice in drinks is not usually a problem as all ice factories are government regulated. You are unlikely to encounter ice in the more remote areas but chilled canned or bottled drinks are usually available from a refrigerator or cooler.

Should I Worry About Leeches?

Not necessarily. Leeches are absent at sea level in Sarawak and Sabah but are often encountered in upland areas. Although unpleasant, they do not present any kind of health risk. DEET-based insect repellent usually offers adequate protection. Leech socks are very effective but hard to find in Borneo – we recommend you bring a pair with you if you are spending long periods in upland rainforest.

What About My Medical Condition?

Common sense applies. Seek your physician’s advice before booking any tour that involves physical exertion or continued high heat and humidity. If you are on medication, bring enough with you to last for the duration of your visit plus any unforeseen circumstances and pack it safely at all times. Although there are plenty of well-stocked clinics and pharmacies, they may not carry your particular formulation. If any of your medications have known abuse potential (e.g. psychoactive drugs, certain pain medicines), carry a letter from your doctor so they are not confiscated by Malaysian Customs. Anyone suffering from severe allergies should carry an EpiPen at all times, as there is always a remote chance you may encounter entirely new allergens you were unaware of. You should also notify SUNTRAVEL SDN BHD of any food allergies so we can adjust menus accordingly, wherever possible.

How Fit Do I Need to Be?

That depends entirely on the kind of tour you wish to take part in. None of our tours requires you to be in superb physical condition, but you should be reasonably fit and in good general health to tackle the Mulu Pinnacles Trail, any Adventure Caving Activities and the Mount Kinabalu Climb. If you have a physical disability, please notify us and we will advise accordingly. Some of our tours are NOT suitable for wheelchair users. Others may require a visually or hearing impaired person to be accompanied by a sighted or hearing partner at all times for safety reasons.
MALARIA AND OTHER VECTOR-BORNE DISEASES

Do I need to take anti-malarials?

Malaria is extremely rare in most of Sarawak and the western part of Sabah. However it presents a possible risk in eastern parts of Sabah and some areas of Sarawak that border on Indonesia, and is prevalent throughout Indonesian Kalimantan. Fortunately, taking anti-malarials does not present a major problem as atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone) and  doxycycline offer effective protection if taken according to your doctor’s instructions. Please note, however, that doxycycline can cause photo-sensitivity in a very small number of people. There are many anecdotal reports of Larium (mefloquine) causing unpleasant side effects, including psychiatric disturbances. Chloroquine and its derivatives are NOT effective in Borneo.

Am I at Risk of Contracting Dengue Fever?

Yes, there is a small risk, as in any tropical country worldwide. Dengue fever occurs in urban and semi-urban areas of Malaysia and Singapore. It is transmitted by the day-biting Aedes mosquitos and there is no vaccine against it. The best way to reduce the risk is by avoiding mosquito bites (see below).

How Do I Protect Myself Against Mosquito Bites

  1. Use an effective mosquito repellent an all areas of exposed skin. “Tropical Strength” or “Expedition Strength” formulations which contain 50% DEET are the most effective, and herbal-based preparations SIMPLY DO NOT WORK (against our mosquitoes, at least).Itisbest to buy repellent before your arrival as the stronger formulations are not widely available in Sarawak.
  2. Cover up by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts in the evenings and when trekking in the rainforest.
  3. Always sleep under a mosquito net when camping in the jungle or staying in a longhouse. SUNTRAVEL SDN BHD provides mosquito nets for all guests where these are considered necessary.
  4. When staying in air-conditioned accommodation, close your windows. In non-air-conditioned accommodation, ensure the window screens are closed.
EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE

Do you have Satellite phones for use in the event of an emergency?

Generally not, unless we are working for an extended period in a very remote area, such as a volunteering project or a film shoot.  Unfortunately the available SatPhone providers in Malaysia use near-horizon satellites which provide next-to-zero coverage in forested environments so carrying them is not usually worth the effort or expense. Time wasted trying to use the SatPhone is usually time lost getting to a more reliable communications link. Our guests are usually within cellphone coverage or have easy access to a landline for most of our tours. The only times they are more than 1 hour from emergency phone connections is during treks from Bario to Ba’Kelalan (at the furthest point the nearest emergency phone is 3 hours away) and during treks from the Sungai Medamit Longhouse to Camp 5 (at the furthest point the nearest emergency phone is 3 hours away).

What are your Emergency evacuation procedures?

If a life-threatening condition were to occur in a remote location, our guide would immediately administer basic first aid, then get to a phone or radio link to the nearest major hospital emergency/trauma department to seek expert guidance on how best to stabilize the patient before evacuation. 

The medical specialist would also advise whether helicopter evacuation is necessary or even desirable. Due to Sarawak’s weather conditions and rugged terrain, MedeVac helicopters are frequently unable to fly to the interior. Please note also that due to inbound helicopter flight times, it often makes more sense to bring patients to a rural or district medical facility for immediate care and triage. Even the most remote rural clinics are staffed by well-qualified nurse-practitioners who have considerable experience in trauma care. 

Most insurers have arrangements with private hospitals. However, in any emergency we strongly recommend that patients are taken directly to a major government teaching hospital (Sarawak General Hospital in Kuching, Miri General Hospital or Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu) as they have comprehensive trauma care facilities and large blood banks and are well-stocked with anti-venins (although snakebite is extremely rare).