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Switzerland
Summary of recommendationsMedicationsImmunizations
Recent outbreaksOther infectionsInsect and Tick Protection
General adviceAmbulance and Emergency ServicesMedical facilities
Traveling with childrenMapsEmbassy/Consulate Location
Safety information

 

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Summary of recommendations:

In general, no special immunizations or medications are necessary for travel to Switzerland. Tick precautions are advised for rural and forested areas, as below.


Vaccinations:

Measles

Recommended for travelers born after 1956 who have not had either two documented measles immunizations or a blood test showing measles immunity. (Those born before 1957 are presumed to be immune.)

Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)

Two doses recommended for all travelers born after 1956, if not previously given

Tetanus-diphtheria

Revaccination recommended every 10 years

Influenza

Recommended for all travelers from November through April

Medications

Altitude sickness may occur in travelers who ascend rapidly to altitudes greater than 2500 meters. Acetazolamide is the drug of choice to prevent altitude sickness. The usual dosage is 125 or 250 mg twice daily starting 24 hours before ascent and continuing for 48 hours after arrival at altitude. Possible side-effects include increased urinary volume, numbness, tingling, nausea, drowsiness, myopia and temporary impotence. Acetazolamide should not be given to pregnant women or those with a history of sulfa allergy. For those who cannot tolerate acetazolamide, the preferred alternative is dexamethasone 4 mg taken four times daily. Unlike acetazolamide, dexamethasone must be tapered gradually upon arrival at altitude, since there is a risk that altitude sickness will occur as the dosage is reduced.

Travel to high altitudes is generally not recommended for those with a history of heart disease, lung disease, or sickle cell disease.

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Immunizations

All children should be up-to-date on routine childhood immunizations, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, prior to international travel. The following are the recommended vaccinations for Switzerland:

Measles-mumps-rubella vaccine: two doses are recommended (if not previously given) for all travelers born after 1956, unless blood tests show immunity. Many adults born after 1956 and before 1970 received only one vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella as children and should be given a second dose before travel. MMR vaccine should not be given to pregnant or severely immunocompromised individuals.

Tetanus-diphtheria vaccine is recommended for all travelers who have not received a tetanus-diphtheria immunization within the last 10 years.

Influenza vaccine is recommended for all travelers during flu season, which runs from November through April. Influenza vaccine may cause soreness at the injection site, low-grade fevers, malaise, and muscle aches. Severe reactions are rare. Influenza vaccine should not be given to pregnant women during the first trimester or those allergic to eggs.

Tick-borne encephalitis vaccine may be considered for long-term travelers who expect to be visiting rural or forested areas in the spring or summer. The number of cases has been rising steadily since the mid-1980s, peaking in 2006 at 244 cases for the year. The number appeared to decline in 2007 (see Eurosurveillance). There are two high-risk regions: a large area covering the midland, with the exception of the far western part, and a smaller area located in the upper Rhine valley, including the principality of Liechtenstein. Risk is highest in the canton of Zürich, followed by Thurgau, St. Gallen, Aargau, and Bern. New risk areas in the western part of the country (Neuchâtel) have recently been identified (see Eurosurveillance).

Two vaccines have been developed: TicoVac, also known as FSME Immun (Baxter AG), which is manufactured in Austria, and Encepur (Chiron Behring), which is made in Germany. The vaccines are approved for use in a number of European countries, but not the United States. A full series consists of three doses over a one-year period, which is not practical for most travelers, though limited data indicate that Encepur may be given in an accelerated schedule for faster immunity. Tick precautions, as discussed below, are strongly advised.

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Recent outbreaks

A nationwide measles epidemic occurred from November 2006 through August 2009, causing 4415 cases. The outbreak mainly affected unvaccinated children between the ages of 5 and 14, as well as older teenagers and young adults who had not been vaccinated. Since October 2007, most of the cases have been described in the cantons of Basel-City and especially Basel-Land in northern Switzerland. However, a measles resurgence was reported in 2011, apparently related to an ongoing outbreak in neighboring France. More than 600 cases cases were reported by July 2011, chiefly from the cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Graubunden, Zurich and Bern. By the summer of 2011, the outbreak appeared to be in decline (see Eurosurveillance and ProMED-mail, July 11 and 12, 2007; February 8, 2009; and May 11, June 26, and July 10, 2011). An increased number of measles cases was also reported in the first few months of 2003 (see Eurosurveillance). All travelers born after 1956 should make sure they have had either two documented MMR or measles immunizations or a blood test showing measles immunity. Those born before 1957 are presumed to be immune. Although measles immunization is usually begun at age 12 months, children between the ages of 6 and 11 months should be given an initial dose of measles or MMR vaccine before traveling to Switzerland.

A small number of cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow disease") have been identified, but transmission to humans has not been reported to date. At present, the risk of acquiring variant CJD from European beef appears to be extraordinarily low, at most about one in 10 billion servings. The Centers for Disease Control does not advise against eating European beef, but suggests that travelers who wish to reduce their risk may either abstain from beef while in Europe or eat only solid pieces of muscle meat, such as steak, rather than products like sausage or chopped meat that might be contaminated. There is no evidence of any risk from pork, lamb, milk or milk products. For recent updates, go to ProMED-mail.

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Other infections

Alveolar echinococcosis is reported from rural areas in Swiss Jura and northeastern Switzerland; see Emerging Infectious Diseases for details.

Lyme disease, which is transmitted by tick bites, is reported from rural and forested areas.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection is reported, but travelers are not at risk unless they have unprotected sexual contacts or receive injections or blood transfusions.

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Insect and Tick Protection

Wear long sleeves, long pants, and boots, with pants tucked in when traveling to rural or forested areas. Apply insect repellents containing 25-50% DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) or 20% picaridin (Bayrepel) to exposed skin (but not to the eyes, mouth, or open wounds). DEET may also be applied to clothing. Products with a lower concentration of either repellent need to be repplied more frequently. Products with a higher concentration of DEET carry an increased risk of neurologic toxicity, especially in children, without any additional benefit. Do not use either DEET or picaridin on children less than two years of age. For additional protection, apply permethrin-containing compounds to clothing and shoes. Permethrin-treated clothing appears to have little toxicity. Perform a thorough tick check at the end of each day with the assistance of a friend or a full-length mirror. Ticks should be removed with tweezers, grasping the tick by the head. Many tick-borne illnesses can be prevented by prompt tick removal.

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General advice

Bring adequate supplies of all medications in their original containers, clearly labeled. Carry a signed, dated letter from your personal physician describing all medical conditions and listing all medications, including generic names. If carrying syringes or needles, be sure to carry a physician's letter documenting their medical necessity. Pack all medications in hand luggage. Carry a duplicate supply in the checked luggage. If you wear glasses or contacts, bring an extra pair. If you have significant allergies or chronic medical problems, wear a medical alert bracelet.

Make sure your health insurance covers you for medical expenses abroad. If not, supplemental insurance for overseas coverage, including possible evacuation, should be seriously considered. If illness occurs while abroad, medical expenses including evacuation may run to tens of thousands of dollars. For a list of travel insurance and air ambulance companies, go to Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad on the U.S. State Department website. Bring your insurance card, claim forms, and any other relevant insurance documents. Before departure, determine whether your insurance plan will make payments directly to providers or reimburse you later for overseas health expenditures. The Medicare and Medicaid programs do not pay for medical services outside the United States.

Pack a personal medical kit, customized for your trip (see description). Take appropriate measures to prevent motion sickness and jet lag, discussed elsewhere. On long flights, be sure to walk around the cabin, contract your leg muscles periodically, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent blood clots in the legs. For those at high risk for blood clots, consider wearing compression stockings.

Avoid contact with stray dogs and other animals. If an animal bites or scratches you, clean the wound with large amounts of soap and water and contact local health authorities immediately. Wear sun block regularly when needed. Use condoms for all sexual encounters. Ride only in motor vehicles with seat belts. Do not ride on motorcycles.

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Ambulance and Emergency Services

For an ambulance in Switzerland, call 144.

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Medical facilities

High quality medical care is widely available. For a guide to physicians and hospitals, go to the U.S. Embassy website at http://bern.usembassy.gov/medical_information2.html. Many health care facilities will expect payment in cash.

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Traveling with children

Before you leave, make sure you have the names and contact information for physicians, clinics, and hospitals where you can obtain emergency medical care if needed.

All children should be up-to-date on routine childhood immunizations, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children who are 12 months or older should receive a total of 2 doses of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, separated by at least 28 days, before international travel. Children between the ages of 6 and 11 months should be given a single dose of measles vaccine. MMR vaccine may be given if measles vaccine is not available, though immunization against mumps and rubella is not necessary before age one unless visiting a country where an outbreak is in progress. Children less than one year of age may also need to receive other immunizations ahead of schedule (see the accelerated immunization schedule).

Be sure to pack a medical kit when traveling with children. In addition to the items listed for adults, bring along plenty of disposable diapers, cream for diaper rash, and appropriate antibiotics for common childhood infections, such as middle ear infections.

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Maps

Helpful maps are available in the University of Texas Perry-Castaneda Map Collection and the United Nations map library. If you have the name of the town or city you'll be visiting and need to know which state or province it's in, you might find your answer in the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names.

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Embassy/Consulate Location

(reproduced from the U.S. State Dept. Consular Information Sheet)

Americans living or traveling in Switzerland are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and obtain updated information on travel and security within Switzerland. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy, Consulate or Consular Agent in Geneva and Zurich.

The U.S. Embassy in Bern is located at Jubilaeumstrasse 93, 3005 Bern; Tel. (41)(31) 357-7011, fax (41)(31) 357-7280. The Embassy's 24 hour emergency telephone number is (41)(31) 357-7777. The Embassy's e-mail address is bernacs@state.gov. The U.S. Embassy website at http://www.us-embassy.ch answers many questions of interest to Americans visiting and residing in Switzerland.

The U.S. Consular Agency in Zurich is located at the American Center of Zurich, Dufourstrasse 101, 8008 Zurich; Tel. (41)(1) 422-2566, fax (41) (1) 383-9814.

The U.S. Consular Agency in Geneva is located at the American Center Geneva, 7 Rue Versonnex, 1207 Geneva; Tel. (41)(22) 840-5160, fax (41)(22) 840-5162, e-mail: consulate.us@ties.itu.int

There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Liechtenstein. For assistance and information on travel and security in Liechtenstein, U.S. citizens may contact or register at the U.S. Embassy in Bern at the address above.

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Safety information

For information on safety and security, go to the U.S. Department of State, United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign Affairs Canada, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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