South Korea quickly became an industrialized country in the 21st century. With its economic growth came improved infrastructure and healthcare. You don’t need to worry about much when visiting the urban areas of South Korea, but rural areas can still present a few issues. This article will break it all down for you.
You should have all of your routine vaccinations before traveling to South Korea. These would include tetanus, the suite of hepatitis immunizations, measles, mumps and several others. For the full list, please reference our article on travel immunizations here.
Beyond the routine vaccinations, typhoid is also recommended. Typhoid fever is caused by a bacteria that can be contracted through contaminated food and/or drink. If you are eating at restaurants that practice good hygiene, only drinking bottled water in urban areas and keeping your hands washed, you should not have to worry about typhoid at all.
If you are traveling to remote rural areas during the wetter months of the year, then it is also recommended that you get a vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis.
So in summary, this is what you need:
- Routine vaccinations
- Typhoid – particularly if you are traveling to rural areas
- Japanese Encephalitis – particularly if you are traveling to rural areas during wetter parts of the year
Rabies may also be advised if you are planning on having close contact with animals.
Can you drink the tap water in South Korea?
Speaking of drinking water, the jury is still out on tap water in South Korea. While most travelers insist that the water is perfectly safe to drink in Seoul, others have pointed to the fact that certain areas of the city have had persistent problems with contaminants showing up in municipal water. In some cases, the water infrastructure itself – the pipes etc. – have been blamed as the chief culprit.
For our money, it’s best to stick with bottled water or purify your own water (for tips on that, see our articles on water purification here). Of course, if you are going to rural areas, you should not even consider tap water as a source of drinking water.
Mosquitoes, malaria and dengue fever
There are certainly mosquitoes in South Korea. If you’ve been reading the site for a while, you are most likely familiar with Sam’s catastrophic case of cellulitis, which came from a mosquito bite. The more important question, however, concerns the ability of mosquitoes to transmit infectious diseases in South Korea.
Climactic conditions preclude dengue from being endemic to South Korea. In other words, the latitude and winters are such that dengue-transmitting mosquitoes cannot survive year-round. That said, there is always a possible risk as dengue is endemic in other countries in Asia, and international travel can encourage its transmission across borders.
Most travelers to South Korea do not need to worry about malaria. However, during the wetter parts of the year between March and December, a doctor at a travel health clinic may advise prophylactics if you are visiting certain provinces, such as Incheon and Kangwon-do. Schedule an appointment at a travel health clinic and explain exactly where you will be visiting in order to get qualified advice on whether or not you need to take prophylactics.
Regardless of whether you take prophylactics or not, please read our article detailing advice for choosing mosquito repellant.
MERS in South Korea
An outbreak earlier this year (2015) caused a sharp decline in tourism. However, as of this writing, the outbreak has been brought under control. For general information on MERS, please see our article here. Before traveling, tune into the World Health Organization or the CDC to see if there are any outbreaks or particular warnings. In the age of global travel, a disease outbreak can start anywhere. This should not keep you from traveling. Rather, pay attention to the news before your trip, and stay informed.
For more info on staying healthy when visiting South Korea, check out this article from the CDC. If you have any South Korea travel health tips of your own, please share them in the comments below.