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Staying Healthy in the Emirates

Sandstorms, such as this one in Dubai, can pose a health risk particularly for those with respiratory issues.
  • General hygiene measures as well as routine vaccinations already go a long way of keeping you healthy in the UAE, with some further immunizations recommended.
  • At times extremely high temperatures pose a health risk that should not be underestimated, especially if you are not used to a hot climate.
  • In comparison, the local wildlife and MERS pose little danger to the cautious expat.

Keep Your Shots Up to Date

Prior to moving to the UAE, make sure all your routine vaccinations are still up to date. These should include:

  • measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine
  • polio vaccine
  • diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTaP) vaccine
  • varicella (chickenpox) vaccine

Furthermore, it is recommended that you get vaccinated against typhoid fever and hepatitis A, which can both be caused by consuming contaminated water or food. Vaccinating against hepatitis B is also a good idea, as is a rabies vaccination if you are likely to be in contact with animals a lot.

Who You Gonna Call? Emergency Numbers in the UAE

If you are in urgent need of assistance, phone:

  • 999 for the police
  • 998 for an ambulance
  • 997 for the fire department

Additionally, 996 will get you in touch with the coast guard in Abu Dhabi.

What Are Common Health Risks in the UAE?

Don’t Underestimate the Heat!

With its arid, subtropical climate, the Emirati summer in particular packs quite the punch! Temperatures can reach well over 45°C and the humid, so-called “Easterner” wind that occurs during the end of summer doesn’t make this any easier. As such, it is very important that you do not underestimate the heat but instead keep a cool head and protect yourself when in the sun:

  • Wear long, light, and loose clothing.
  • Apply sunscreen and use a hat, cap, scarf, etc. to cover your head.
  • Generally limit physical exercise outside, especially during the hottest time of the day (10:00–16:00).
  • If you are outside a lot, drink plenty of fluids (ideally just water) and eat salty snacks to help you replace any salt lost while sweating.

Please also keep in mind that food can spoil much more quickly in high temperatures.

Dust & Desert: A Hazard for Your Health

The country’s desert setting can not only cause problems related to the heat, however. The amount of mineral dust particles kicked up by winds in the desert as well as other air pollutants, e.g. from construction works, is particularly high in the UAE, making it the country with the most polluted air according to the World Bank’s The Little Green Data Book 2015. Since the tiny particles are particularly dangerous to those with pre-existing respiratory issues, affected persons should avoid being out and about for long stretches of time when air pollution levels are high. You can check the Air Quality Index on the website of the National Center of Meteorology & Seismology or on the website of the Environment Agency (Abu Dhabi only).

Respect the Wildlife

It is not only the desert sand that can cause problems, though. Prior to any outings into the desert, and especially if you are camping, make sure to inform yourself about the potential dangers of the local wildlife. While scorpions and snakes prefer to stay clear of humans, anyway, and many of the local species are not (too) venomous, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what you might encounter. The same goes for the various species of sea snakes that can be found along the coast. While more venomous than their cousins on land, they are also not particularly aggressive if left alone.

In fact, ants seem to pose the bigger health risk: They are more easily encountered and reactions to the bites of the rather aggressive fire ants and the more placid Samsun ants can be quite painful and in some cases even lead to, at times severe, anaphylactic shock. Lastly, there have also been sightings of the venomous redback spider in the UAE. Originally not native to the country, but quite comfortable in the hot climate, these spiders are not just found in the desert, either.

Still, there is no reason to panic if you follow these three easy tips:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Respect the local wildlife and do not provoke animals.
  • Seek timely medical help in the (unlikely) event of a bite or sting, ideally being able to describe the perpetrator in detail to help medical personal identify its exact species.

How Dangerous Is MERS?

There have been reported cases of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in the UAE. The illness affects the respiratory system, leading to various symptoms including shortness of breath, coughing, abdominal pain, and fever, which can be fatal particularly for those with pre-existing medical conditions.

The danger of MERS spreading from person to person is luckily rather low, though, with known cases typically only occurring in hospital settings and involving close contact with sick persons. However, since camels are suspected of playing a role in the spread of MERS, you should make sure to thoroughly wash your hands when in contact with these animals. Also avoid any contact with sick camels as well as the consumption of raw/undercooked camel meat or products.  

Some More Tips for Staying Healthy

When it comes to your health, the UAE in general and the big cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular are quite a safe place to travel to. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to follow some basic hygienic measures:

  • Make sure to wash your hands regularly.
  • Use insect repellent and/or nets to protect yourself from bug bites.
  • Avoid raw or undercooked food, especially fish and meat.
  • Make sure to wash or peel any fruit or vegetables.
  • Avoid consuming tap water.

The latter is regarded as safe to drink by the authorities, at least when it comes to the tap water as provided by the suppliers. In residential areas, however, the building owner is responsible for cleaning any water tanks used for storage and as such the quality of your tap water is not necessarily guaranteed.

 

We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.