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Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - vaccinations, acupuncture, tattooing and body piercing can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV/AIDS can also be spread through transfusions using infected blood, but in Italy blood is screened and so transfusions are safe. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you or take a needle and syringe pack with you.

Fear of HIV infection should never preclude treatment for serious medical conditions.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

HIV/AIDS and hepatits B can be transmitted through sexual contact. Other STD's include gonorrhoea, herpes and syphilis; sores, blisters or rashes around the genitals and discharges or pain when urinating are common symptoms . In some STD's, such as wart virus or chlamydia, symptoms may be less marked or not observed at all, especially in women. Chlamydia infection can cause infertility in men and women before any symptoms have been noticed. Syphilis symptoms eventually disappear completely but the disease continues and can cause severe problems in later years. While abstinence from sexual contact is the only 100% effective prevention, using condoms is also effective. The treatment of gonorrhoea and syphilis is with antibiotics. The different sexually transmitted diseases each require specific antibiotics.

Bites & Stings

Bedbugs & Lice

Bedbugs live in various places, but particuarly in dirty mattresses and bedding, evidence by spots of blood on bedclothes or on the wall. Bedbugs leave itchy bites in neat rows. Calamine lotion or a sting relief spray may help.

All lice cause itching and discomfort. They make themselves at home in your hair (head lice), your clothing (body lice) or in your pubic hair (crabs). You catch lice through direct contact with infected people or by sharing combs, clothing and the like. Powder or shampoo treatment will kill the lice: infected clothing should then be washed in very hot, soapy water and left in the sun to dry.

Italian beaches are occasionally inundates with jellyfish. Their stings are painful but not dangerous. Dousing in vinegar will de-activate any stingers that have not fired. Calamine lotion, anithistamines and anaglesics may reduce the reaction and relieve pain. If in doubt about swimming, ask locals if any jellyfish are in the water.


Italy's one dangerous snake, the viper, is found throughout the country except on Sardinia. To minimise the possibilties of being bitten, always wear boots, socks and long trousers when walking through undergrowth where snakes may be present. Don't put your hands into holes and crevices and do be careful when collecting firewood.

Viper bites do not cause instantaneous death and antivenin is widely available in pharmacies. Keep the victim calm and still, wrap the bitten limb tightly, as you would for a sprained ankle, and attach a splint to immobilise it. Seek medical help, if possible with the dead snake for identification. Don't attempt to catch the snake if there is a possibility of being bitten again. Tourniquets and sucking out the poison are now comprehensively discredited.


Always check all over your body if you have been walking through a potentially tick-infested area as ticks can cause skin infections and other more serious diseases. In recent years there have been several reported deaths on Sardinia related to tick bites. Health authorities have yet to pinpoint the cause.

If a tick is found attached, press down around the tick's head with tweezers, grab the head and gently pull upwards. Avoid pulling the rear of the body as this may squeeze the tick's gut contents through the attached mouth parts into the skin, increasing the risk of infection and disease. Smearing chemicals on the tick will not make it let go and is not recommended.

Less Common Diseases


Rabies is still found in Italy but only in isolated areas of the Alps. It is transmitted through a bite or scratch by an infected animal. Dogs are noted carriers. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a mammal in an area where rabies does exist should be cleaned immediatley and throughly. Scrub with soap and running water and then clean with an alcohol solution. Medical help should be sought immediately. A course of injections may then be necessary to prevent the onset of symptoms and death.


This is a gorup of parasitic diseases transmitted by sandflies and found in coastal parts of Italy. Cutaneous leishmaniasis affects the skin tissue and causes ulceration nd disfigurement; visceral leishmaniasis affects the internal organs. Avoiding sandfly bites by covering up and using repellent is the best precaution against this disease.

Lyme Disease

This disease is an infection transmitted by ticks that can be acquired throughout Europe, including forested areas of Italy. The illness usually begins with a spreading rash at the site of the tick bite and is accompanied by fever, headache, extreme fatigue, aching joints and muscle and mild neck stiffness. If  untreated, these symptoms usually disappear over several weeks but disorders of the nervous system, hear and joints may develop over subsequent weeks or months. Treatment works best early in the illness. Medical help should be sought.

Tick-bone Encephalitis

Ticks can carry encephalitis, a virus-borne cerebral inflammation. Tick-borne encephalitis can occur in most forest and rural areas of Europe, especially in eastern Austria, Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Symptoms include blotches around the bite, which is sometimes pale in the middle. Headache, stiffness and other flu-like symptoms as well as extreme tiredness, appearing a week or two after the bite, can progress to more serious problems. Medical help must be sought.

Women's Health

Women often find that their menstrual periods become irregular or even cease while they are away from home. Remember that a missed period in these circumstances doesn't necessarily indicate pregnancy.

If you use contraceptive pills, don't forget to take time zones into account and do be aware that the pills may not be absorbed if you suffer intestinal problems. If you think you have run into problems while in Italy, contact the nearest Consultorio Familiare, attached to each USL or ASL.


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