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How to stay safe while travelling in Italy

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How to stay safe while travelling in Italy
Swimmers pictured at a Sardinian beach. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP
11:40 CEST+02:00
Italy is generally a very safe country to visit, but travellers should still take precautions and be aware of the possible risks and dangers from strong currents in the water to insect bites. The Local takes a look at some of the most important things to bear in mind when preparing for a trip to Italy.

Swim safely

If you're heading to one of Italy's lakes or beaches, it's tempting to head into the water for a dip but visitors should make sure to take precautions, especially those with young children or who aren't strong swimmers.

You can check the bathing water quality using this interactive map from the EEA, and you can also search for Blue Flag beaches which are chosen for high quality and environmental standards, including clean water.

A flag system is used to show whether the water is safe for swimming: green means it is safe, yellow means use caution, red means no swimming, and purple means a marine pest such as jellyfish has been spotted in the water.

Be aware of strong water currents and winds, sudden changes in depth if you're swimming in a lake or river, and creatures such as jellyfish, sea urchins and rays. If you have any doubts about whether a certain spot is safe for swimming, local authorities and tourist information services should be able to advise you.

READ ALSO: This map reveals the cleanest and greenest beaches in Italy

Sun and heat precautions

Italy gets extremely hot in the summer so you should take general precautions such as using plenty of sun cream, staying hydrated, staying inside or in shaded areas during the hottest part of the day, and being aware of the symptoms of heatstroke.

You can check for current weather warnings via the European Meteorological Service and can also consult the Department of Civil Protection for any active warnings in Italy.

Forest fires are also a risk in Italy, particularly following periods of drought. These can be extremely dangerous, and high levels of smoke can cause health problems. If you'll be spending time near wooded areas, exercise caution (for example by not starting any open fires and by disposing of all rubbish -- discarded glass can start a fire in dry woodland), and keep up to date on the forest fire risk by checking local news and the website of the Department of Civil Protection.

Road safety

If you have an EU driving licence, that's valid in Italy, and if your licence comes from a non-EU country you can drive as long as you also have an International Driver's Permit.

The Italian police offer English-language guidelines on safe driving in Italy, and you can also find information on the Italian road rules from the European Commission. Make sure you're aware of local speed limits and ZTL (limited traffic zone) areas, which mean vehicles cannot enter without a special permit -- this applies to many of Italy's historic town centres.

Italy and Rome in particular have been singled out for poor road safety compared to other destinations in Europe. Watch out for narrow winding roads in rural and mountainous areas and for potholes in cities.

Watch your drinks if you plan to drive: the legal blood alcohol level is 0.05 percent but 0.00 percent if you've been driving for less than three years, and mixed drinks in Italy are often strong compared to many other countries.

The winding Menzola pass near South Tyrol. Photo: Christof Stache/AFP

Crime

Italy has a generally low crime rate but you should take the same precautions you would anywhere else, and be careful not to lower your guard just because you're on holiday. 

In the big cities and areas popular with tourists, be aware of petty crime such as pick-pocketing, and take particular care on public transport or near busy tourist sites as opportunistic criminals may be active there. Keep valuables secure either on your person or in a hotel safe.

READ ALSO: Typical pick-pocketing scams and how to avoid them

Earthquake awareness

Italy is highly prone to seismic activity including earthquakes and even volcanic eruptions. Ingv monitors Italy's earthquakes, and the Department of Civil Protection has advice on what you should do if one occurs while you're in Italy. 

If a visit to volcanoes such as Vesuvius and Etna is on your itinerary, check with local authorities before you go to find out what the risk of eruptions is and consider going with a qualified guide (particularly if you plan to visit the higher craters of Etna). Sometimes, public access to both volcanoes is restricted for safety reasons, and if that's the case this should of course be respected.

READ ALSO: Which areas of Italy are most prone to earthquakes?

Insect bites

Two insects to be particularly aware of are mosquitoes and ticks. There have been cases of the mosquito-borne virus chikungunya in Rome and northern Italy over the past year. You can find information about the virus and how to protect yourself from the World Health Organization.

Some ticks in Italy carry Lyme disease (for which there is no vaccination) and in the northern regions tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is also a risk. You can get vaccinated against TBE, though it takes three separate vaccinations, usually over the course of a year, to be 99 percent protected.

The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) recommends checking your body for ticks after time spent in wooded areas, and safely removing any ticks you find. Check the website for more ticks on insect bite prevention.

If you are experiencing a reaction to a bite, visit a pharmacy as they will be able to offer medication and advice.

File photo of a mosquito: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Other dangerous animals

You are unlikely to come across dangerous wildlife during a trip to Italy. However, the country is home to some varieties of poisonous snakes and spiders, particularly the violin spider and the Mediterranean black widow (though both are very rare). 

If you are bitten by an insect or animal in Italy, you should seek medical attention, even if you don't appear to be having an adverse reaction to the bite.

Vaccinations

It is good practice to visit a healthcare professional around six weeks before a trip overseas to see if they recommend any vaccinations.

For travel to Italy, the vaccinations you may need will depend on your age and health, but the average traveller is unlikely to need any special vaccinations. However, it's recommended by IAMAT that all travellers and children in partiuclar should be up to date on routine immunizations such as tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella and polio.

Visitors should be aware that there has recently been a rise in the number of measles cases in Italy and Italy's measles immunization rate of 87 percent is far below the 95 percent threshold recommended by the World Health Organization.

READ ALSO: Measles cases increased almost six-fold in Italy in 2017

Measles cases rise six-fold in Italy as populists pledge to scrap compulsory vaccines

Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP

If you need healthcare in Italy

Before leaving for Italy, you should ensure you have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or travel insurance if you're visiting from outside the EU, and that you have a sufficient supply of any prescription medicines you take.

If you find yourself in an emergency, call 112 (police), 118 (ambulance) or 115 (fire service).

For non-urgent healthcare matters, you can visit a pharmacy (farmacia) to buy medicines and get advice on certain ailments, and for urgent healthcare, check the Ministry of Health's advice (in English) on how to access emergency healthcare.

 

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