South Africa’s landscapes make it the third most biodiverse country on earth. Here, you can see semi-desert regions, long coastal stretches, wetlands, subtropical forests, grasslands, bush and spectacular mountainous regions.
Exercise a high degree of caution in South Africa due to the high level of serious crime.
South Africa is famous for its nature adventures and a trip is not complete without going on safari to see the famous ‘Big 5’ (lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard and rhino), or cage diving in Gansbaai to come face-to-face with a Great White shark. For those who are not animal lovers, the picturesque Table Mountain makes for an excellent hiking experience. There are various hikes you can choose from depending on your experience or preferred difficulty level, but don’t worry – there is a cable car that can take you straight to the top if you prefer.
Whatever activities you have planned on your trip to South Africa, it’s important to consider the risk of contracting infectious diseases and other illnesses. Speak with your healthcare professional about how you can best protect yourself prior to your departure.
Before you go to South Africa
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all travellers are up-to-date with their routine vaccinations including; measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, polio, influenza and pneumococcal disease. These vaccinations are given as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). For a full list please refer to the NIP schedule, available here. In some cases, you may need a booster or re-vaccination against a disease to ensure you still have immunity.
Travellers to South Africa who are aged 5 years or older should also ensure they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Other diseases that are considered a risk in South Africa include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, malaria and rabies. Your doctor will be able to let you know which vaccinations or medications are recommended for you, based on the time of year, destination/s, activities planned and the duration of your stay.
Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver. People are exposed to the virus generally through food or drink contaminated with faeces (poo), however, close personal contact (e.g.
Malaria is a serious and sometimes life-threatening parasitic infection spread by the bite of a certain mosquito (i.e. the female Anopheles mosquito).
It is best to consult with your doctor or travel health clinic at least a month prior to your departure. They will be able to advise you about any vaccinations that you may need for your trip well before you leave, based on your specific travel plans.
What your doctor will need to know:
- When you plan to travel (time of year/season)
- The duration of your trip
- The regions of South Africa you are visiting
- Your planned activities (i.e. if you are going on safari or visiting remote and/or wilderness areas)
- If you will be in contact with animals
- If you are up-to-date with your routine vaccinations
Your doctor may also conduct a general health check-up. This may be needed for your travel insurance if you have a pre-existing medical condition.
If you are not up-to-date with your routine vaccinations or if the doctor believes you may be at an increased risk of contracting a vaccine-preventable disease, then they may recommend you get a booster or be revaccinated against a particular disease.
If a safari in Krugar National Park is on your itinerary, it is recommended that you are up-to-date with your routine vaccinations, including measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, polio, influenza and pneumococcal disease. These vaccinations are given as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP), available here. For a full list please refer to the NIP schedule or speak with your doctor.
You should also consider vaccination for both hepatitis A and typhoid, as these diseases are passed on through contaminated food and water, which is common in South Africa. In addition, your doctor may advise you to take prescription medication for malaria before, during and after your visit to Kruger National Park, as malaria-transmitting mosquitoes are considered a risk within the area.
Some health insurance companies provide coverage for vaccinations. You will need to contact your health insurance provider to see what they cover.
When you see your doctor regarding your trip, Medicare may cover the total cost of your consultation fees (if it is a bulk billing practice), or otherwise a portion of the cost. However, if you need to be vaccinated, Medicare will not cover the cost of the vaccines themselves.
Malaria is a risk in some parts of South Africa and will depend on your travel plans. For example, the Kruger National Park, the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal pose a malaria risk during the summer.
Speak with your healthcare practitioner at least a month before you leave and they will be able to let you know whether you will need malaria medication, based on where you are going, when you are travelling and what activities you have planned.
The standard of healthcare facilities in South Africa varies – public hospitals are often lower standards than here in Australia, but private hospitals are generally better equipped. It is important you a prepared before heading off on your trip.
See your doctor at least a month before departure to discuss your travel health requirements.
- Register your trip with Smart Traveller
- Make sure you have enough of your regular prescription medicines;
- Ensure you’re up-to-date with your routine vaccinations
- Take out travel insurance - to cover you and your family for medical and other costs resulting from unexpected incidents and accidents
- Put together a travel kit with medication for pain, diarrhoeal medicine, oral rehydration salts, antiseptic lotion or ointment, adhesive bandages and other wound dressings, insect repellent, sunscreen, latex gloves, thermometer, motion sickness medicine, water purification tablets and compression stockings
- The tap water in South Africa is mostly safe to drink in major cities, but may be unsafe in rural areas. Only drink bottled or filtered water and check the seal on water bottles (some stores have been known to sell boiled water in recycled bottles). Avoid ice in your drinks, and check that salad and fruit have been washed with filtered water prior to eating.
- Traveller's diarrhoea is common in South Africa. Important ways to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea include:
- Ensure you wash your hands with soap and water regularly
- Where possible, opt for fully cooked fresh food and only eat fruit that you peel yourself.
- Avoid mosquito bites, as you may be at risk of contracting illnesses such as malaria in some parts of South Africa. Malaria-transmitting mosquitoes bite predominantly between dusk and dawn. There is a vaccination for malaria and you can further protect yourself with insect repellent, wearing clothes that cover your arms and legs and staying in accommodation that has fly nets or screens. Also use these methods to avoid ticks.
- Rabies is a concern in South Africa. If you’re planning to visit farms and/or game reserves, avoid contact with animal tissues or blood.
- Use condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, human papillomavirus, herpes, syphilis, hepatitis B and HIV.
- Diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B can also be spread through body fluids such as blood and semen. To protect yourself, practice safe sex, do not inject drugs, do not share needles or devices that can break the skin including those used for tattooing, piercings or acupuncture. Vaccinations are available for hepatitis B
Sources & Citations
1. Worldometer, South Africa Population (live). Available at: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/south-africa-population/ [accessed 15 February 2022].
2. Getaway Africa. National Parks in South Africa. Available at: https://www.getawayafrica.com/national-parks-in-south-africa/ [accessed 15 February 2022].
3. Traveller. Adventure tours South Africa: Shark cages, ziplining and skydiving in Cape Down. Available at: https://www.traveller.com.au/cape-town-the-adrenalin-capital-gu7a9k [accessed 15 February 2022].
4. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Travelers Health – South Africa. Available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/south-africa [accessed 15 February 2022].
5. Australian Government Department of Health. National Immunisation Program Schedule. Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/national-immunisation-program-schedule [accessed 15 February 2022].
6. Finder, Travel Vaccinations – Can I claim travel vaccinations on my private health insurance? Available at: https://www.finder.com.au/travel-vaccinations [accessed 15 February 2022].
7. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler’s Health Pack Smart. Available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/pack-smart [accessed 15 February 2022].
8. Australian Government. Smart Traveller – South Africa. Available at: https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/destinations/africa/south-africa [accessed 15 February 2022].
9. Australian Government. Smart Traveller – Infectious Diseases. Available at: https://www.smartraveller.gov.au/before-you-go/health/diseases [accessed 15 February 2022].
MAT-AU-2200218 Date of preparation March 2022