There are no major health risks associated with travelling in Holland. No vaccinations are required. For general health issues, check out the official health recommendations issued by your government. There are some specific health issues you need to be aware of if you’re cycling in Holland, such as dehydration & heat exhaustion, Lyme disease and oak processionary caterpillars. For emergencies ring 112.
Beware of the oak processionary caterpillar! Photo © Holland-Cycling.com
Dehydration and heat exhaustion
Dehydration and heat exhaustion in Holland? Yes, heat related illnesses can be a problem and not only in the height of summer. Holland has a lot of flat and open landscape with little protection against the sun. As there is usually a cool breeze, you don’t always realise how hot it actually is and how much fluid you’re loosing through sweating. If you feel thirsty, it’s a sign you’re dehydrating. Make sure you drink enough to produce pale, diluted urine. Dutch tap water is of exceptionally good quality (some even say it's better than bottled water, in any case it's a lot cheaper), so make sure you fill up your bottles.
Dehydration can result in heat exhaustion. Symptoms include headache, dizziness and tiredness. If you’re suffering from heat exhaustion, you need to make sure you drink enough to replace the fluids you have lost. Salty fluids such as soup or bouillon and salty foods will help replace the loss of salt. Cool your body e.g. with cold water.
Ticks are a problem in deciduous woodlands (especially with oak trees) and grassy areas. Usually cyclists only get tick bites when they go off the cycle paths for a break. In Holland ticks can carry the borrelia bacteria, which causes Lyme disease. The estimated chance of getting Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick is 1-3%.
Tips to prevent Lyme disease
- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs and apply insect repellent containing DEET.
- Ticks have a special liking for oak trees, so avoid sitting under oak trees.
- Check your body thoroughly for ticks after a visit to the woods or grassy areas.
- Remove a tick as soon as possible. If ticks are removed within 24 hours, the chance of infection is small.
- Remove a tick in the correct way, otherwise the tick will regurgitate noxious saliva into the wound, which increases the chance of infection. Use tweezers or your finger nails to either pull or twist the tick out.
Symptoms may vary, some people even have no symptoms at all. If you’ve been bitten by an infected tick, you might get a red welt and a 'bull's eye' around the spot within a day or two. Sometimes you may have mild flu-like symptoms (e.g. headache, nausea). If this happens, go and see a doctor immediately. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious damage to the nervous system.
Oak processionary caterpillars
Holland has a large number of lanes with oak trees, which are the ideal home for the oak processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea processionea). As a cyclist you rarely get to see the caterpillars themselves. You will notice oak trees marked with red and white tape with the inscription Pas op processierups (Beware of the oak processionary caterpillar). This is to warn people who may have an allergic reaction to the poisonous setae (hairs).
Health problems are most common in late May and early June. This is when the oak processionary caterpillar is in its last stages of development, before becoming a moth. The caterpillars are covered with thousands of poisonous hairs that break off easily and get blown away by the wind.
If the toxic hairs come into contact with your skin, you can come up with a very itchy skin rash. The hairs might also give you itchy eyes. Less commonly, they have been reported to cause sore throats and respiratory distress, particularly among those with a pre-existing condition. Usually the symptoms will disappear within several days or weeks.
Tips to remove the toxic hairs
- Rinse your skin and eyes thoroughly with water.
- Using sticky tape to strip any remaining hairs off your skin. Avoid scratching and rubbing.
- Wash your clothing at a high temperature (60° C) with water and soap.
Emergency number 112
In emergencies ring 112. You can ring this emergency telephone number free of charge from any telephone or mobile phone to reach emergency services (Ambulances, Fire & Rescue Service and the Police). The staff should be able to assist you in the English language.
For non-urgent health problems you can go to a local GP. The accommodation where you're staying should have a list of GPs you can contact hanging somewhere on a notice board. If you can't find it, just ask at the reception. Somebody will usually be willing to organise transport for you, if necessary.