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Travel Guide > North America > USA

USA Health & Safety

  
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Health

Disease

Being a highly industrialized nation, the United States is largely free from most serious communicable diseases found in many developing nations; however, the HIV rate — especially among gay men, IV drug users, sex workers, and certain ethnic minority groups — is higher than in Canada and Western Europe, with about a 0.5% infection rate in the overall population. With this in mind, be sure to use a condom during any sexual activities.

One disease of which one should be wary while visiting the United States is Rabies, particularly in the eastern regions of the country. While human cases are rare, have all bites inflicted upon your person by mammals examined by a doctor and discuss prophylaxis, especially if the animal was exhibiting the common symptoms of this fatal infection (hydrophobia, aggression, foaming at the mouth, etc.).

Another disease of concern in the eastern regions of the country, specially in the northeastern states, is Lyme Disease. The primary vector of this disease is the deer tick, which are prevalent in the woodlands and open fields of many rural areas. When venturing into the outdoors, it is a good idea to apply an insect repellent onto exposed skin surfaces that is effective against deer ticks. For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control website on Lyme Disease.

In the western regions, Hantaviral Pulmonary Syndrome is a rare, but very serious disease that is present in the fecal matter of some animals, primarily members of the rodent family. There is no cure for the disease and it can have extremely detrimental consequences to one's health, even resulting in death. It is best to not handle any wild animals or wander into areas that receive little sunlight and ventilation.

Other diseases that are endemic within the United States, but are of far less concern, include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (mostly in the Rocky Mountain region), West Nile Virus (all regions), Eastern/Western Equine Encephalitis (particularly in the mid-west region), and Bubonic Plague (in the western regions).

It should be noted that all of the above listed diseases are extraordinarily rare and the medical system of the United States is very much capable to handle any these when necessary.

Health Care

The American health care system is world-class in quality, but can be very expensive. Americans generally use private health insurance, paid either by their employer or out of their own pocket; some risk paying high hospital bills themselves, or depend on government subsidized health plans. As a traveler you should have travel insurance or potentially face high costs if you need medical care.

In a life-threatening emergency, call 911 to summon an ambulance to take you to the nearest hospital emergency room ("ER"), or in less urgent situations get to the hospital yourself and register at the ER's front desk. Emergency rooms will treat patients without regard to their ability to pay, but you will still be presented with a bill for all care. Do not use ERs for non-emergency walk-in care. Not only can this be 3-4 times more expensive than other options, but you will often wait many hours before being treated, as the staff will give priority to patients with urgent needs. In most areas, the charge for an emergency room visit starts around $500, in addition to any specific services or medications you may require. Most urban areas have minor emergency centers (also called "urgent care", etc.) for medical situations where a fully equipped emergency room would be excessive. However, their hours may be limited, and few are open overnight.

Walk-in clinics are another place for travelers to find routine medical care, letting patients see a doctor or nurse-practitioner without an appointment (but often with a bit of a wait). They are typically very up-front about fees, and always accept credit cards. To find one, check the yellow pages under "Clinics", or call a major hospital and ask. Make sure to tell the clerk you will be paying "out of pocket"; if they assume an insurance company will be paying for it, they may order tests that are not medically essential and in some cases bill for services that aren't actually provided.

Dentists are readily available throughout the United States (again, see the yellow pages). Dental offices are accustomed to explaining fees over the phone, and most will accept credit cards.

Most counties and cities have a government-supported clinic offering free or low-cost testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases; call the Health Department for the county you are in for more details. Many county clinics offer primary health care services as well, however these services are geared towards low-income residents and not foreign travelers. Planned Parenthood (1-800-230-7526) is a private agency with clinics and centers around the country providing birth control and other reproductive health services for both females and males.

Safety

Crime

It is true that for an industrialized nation, the U.S. has a fairly high violent crime rate; however, most crime is concentrated in inner city neighborhoods. Few visitors to the U.S. experience any sort of crime. Much crime is gang- or drug-related or the result of family / personal disputes, and it usually occurs in areas that are of little interest to visitors. You can all but ensure that you won't experience crime by taking common-sense precautions and staying alert to your surroundings.

Most American urban areas have homeless people. In some areas aggressive panhandling is a concern. If you feel you are being harassed, say NO firmly and walk away.

Security has increased along the United States–Mexico border due to increased illegal immigration and drug crime. Only cross the country's borders at official crossings.

Police

American police are generally polite, professional, and honest. If stopped by a police officer, you should stay calm, be exceedingly polite and cooperative, avoid making sudden movements, and explain in advance what you are doing if you need to reach for your purse or wallet to present your identification. Remember that in America, police consider every encounter with the public could end in a variety of possible ways, some of them unpleasant, and therefore may be more formal and cautious than police in other nations. Also remember that American police officers are always armed, unlike police in many other Western nations. Do not attempt to offer a bribe under any circumstances; you will be arrested on the spot. If you need to pay a fine, the officer can direct you to the appropriate police station, courthouse, or government office.

Border Patrol

Near the land borders with Canada and Mexico as well as inland areas where illegal immigration is a major problem, The United States Border Patrol conducts random immigration screenings on intercity buses and trains, patrols city streets and sets up vehicle checkpoints. Unless you are traveling to or through one of these areas (such as Buffalo, NY or San Diego), it's highly unlikely you'll encounter border patrol once inside the United States. If at any point you are approached by border patrol, simply state your country of citizenship when requested and as a foreign national be prepared to show your passport, I-94/94W entry record, and visa (if applicable) - which you should be carrying with you at all times. The officer may also ask you a few questions about your itinerary, but once they establish that you are here legally as a tourist, they'll move right on to the next person - their primary concern is catching illegal immigrants who evaded the border and are attempting to travel inland, not to give you a second immigration interview.

Natural disasters

The U.S. is a huge country with very varied geography, and parts of it are occasionally affected by natural disasters: hurricanes in June through November in the South including Florida, blizzards (sometimes called "Noreasters") in New England and the areas near the Great Lakes, tornadoes mostly in the Great Plains region, earthquakes in California and Alaska, floods in areas of the Midwestern United States and wildfires in the late summer and early fall on the West Coast, particularly California. See the regions in question for more details.

Because tornadoes are so common between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, this area has earned itself the colloquial name Tornado Alley. The San Andreas Fault is a tectonic plate boundary running through California, an area prone to earthquakes.

Gay and lesbian

Homosexual relations are legal throughout the US. Many states and cities have anti-discrimination codes, including public accomodations in hotels, restaurants and transport. Several states have legalized gay marriage or civil unions, though this is not recognized at the federal level.

In general, Americans take a live-and-let-live approach to sexuality, but there are significant exceptions. Attitudes toward homosexuality vary widely, even in regions with a reputation for tolerance or intolerance. Acceptance is most common in major cities throughout the country and smaller cities, suburbs and college towns of the Pacific Coast, the Northeast and Hawaii. Homophobia and anti-gay violence may be encountered in some suburban and rural areas, especially in the Southeast and interior West, but the chances of this are relatively low.

The U.S. has many gay-friendly destinations, where openly gay couples are common, including New York's Chelsea, Chicago's Boystown, San Francisco's Castro Street and Noe Valley, Washington's Dupont Circle, Miami Beach's South Beach, and Los Angeles' West Hollywood. Even outside of gay neighborhoods, many major cities are gay-friendly, especially in the Northeast and the West Coast. An increasing number of resort areas are known as gay-friendly, including Fire Island, Key West, Asheville, Provincetown, Ogunquit, Rehoboth Beach, Saugatuck, and parts of Asbury Park. In these areas it's generally not a problem to be open about one's sexual orientation. In many other smaller cities, there are neighborhoods where gay people tend to congregate.

Some gay-friendly businesses like to advertise themselves as such with a rainbow flag or a small pink triangle or three-vertical-striped sticker in the window. Of course, chances are you'll also be welcome at any other public establishment.

If you are planning to engage in any sort of sexual activity with the locals, beware the heightened risk of HIV and other infections in the United States. A gay American man is 44 times more likely to contract HIV than a heterosexual one, and 46 times more likely to contract syphilis. This risk grows greatly among American men likely to engage in one-night stands and other higher-risk behaviour. In a nation where 0.5% of a 300-million strong population already suffer from HIV, this can amount to a very real danger. As a non-resident, facing the US healthcare system may be exceedingly difficult and expensive, even for lesser STDs. Safe (or no) sex is strongly advised during your stay.

Illicit drugs

Street drugs, including marijuana, are illegal throughout the U.S. Marijuana use is more widely accepted than other drugs (particularly on the West Coast), but generally not to the degree that it is in Canada or Western European countries. Although a few states have passed laws legalizing the medical use of marijuana, this will not protect any foreign citizen caught in possession. Outside of drug-using circles, most Americans frown upon illicit drug use regardless of quantity, and travelers would be wise to avoid using such substances in the United States. Penalties can be very severe, and can include mandatory minimum jail terms for possession of personal quantities in some states. Also, ANY drug possession near a school, however slight the quantity, will land you a heavy jail term. Attempting to bring any quantity into the U.S. poses a serious risk of being arrested for "trafficking".

Prostitution

Prostitution is illegal in all areas except at licensed brothels in rural Nevada counties. In other states, tolerance and enforcement of prostitution laws vary considerably, but be aware that police routinely engage in "sting" operations in which an officer may pose as a prostitute to catch and arrest persons offering to pay for sex.

911

During any emergency, dialing 911 at any telephone will connect you to the emergency services in the area (police, fire, ambulance, etc). Calls to 911 are free from payphones and any mobile phone capable of connecting with local carriers. Give the facts. The dispatchers will send help. Unless you are calling from a mobile phone, the 911 operator can almost certainly trace your line instantly and locate you.

With mobile phones it is more difficult, and in some states you may be connected to the regional office for the state police or highway patrol, which will then have to transfer you to the appropriate local agency once they talk to you and figure out what you need. Because of many horror stories of situations where mobile phone users became incapacitated (either by criminals or illness) after calling 911 and the operator could not locate them in time, in recent years more and more mobile phones have incorporated GPS devices that will display the user's precise geographical location to the 911 operator.

If you are staying in one area, it may be helpful to have the phone numbers for the local emergency services so as to get through directly to the local dispatch. Moreover, in most locations, 911 calls are recorded and are open, public records, while the conversation with the local emergency dispatchers cannot be accessed by the public. Do remember that if you dial emergency dispatchers directly, E911 (the technology that allows 911 operators to trace calls) services may not be available.

Firearm-Related Issues

It's true: many - but by no means all - Americans own a firearm of one sort or another; except certain classes of people (e.g. convicted felons and domestic violence offenders, drug users, and the mentally unstable), firearm ownership is legal in most locales with varying degrees of restriction by state. Contrary to popular belief, most Americans are responsible with their firearms and use/carry them appropriately and within the limits of the law (though the limits of American gun laws themselves tend to stretch the definition of 'responsible' in the eyes of many fellow First World visitors). The vast majority of Americans are non-violent except in defense.

Your chances of a firearm-related injury in the U.S.A. are very low, but please keep the following in mind:

  • In the city, encountering somebody with an openly visible firearm is more of a cause of concern than seeing somebody with one in the country, and may be a sign of oncoming trouble. (note, however, that many states permit "open carry" for legal firearm owners and, while uncommon in cities, you may encounter somebody with a holstered firearm. Don't be too concerned, but use common sense in assessing the situation.)
  • Hunting is a popular sport in rural America. If venturing out into the hinterlands, it is a good idea to inquire if any hunting is currently afoot and where. If in an active hunting area, wear bright colors (particularly "Blaze Orange") to differentiate yourself from terrain and prey. If you have a dog with you, you should also put a blaze orange vest on it as well. You can find these vests at most camping, sport, and pet stores, and they should be relatively inexpensive. In some states, mainly ones in which hunting is very popular, you will need to get a permit to hunt from the Department of Natural Resources for that state (DNR). Some states require simply an application to receive a hunting permit, while others require that the person take a Firearms Safety class. While hunting in most states, there are restrictions on the number of game you can kill, and some require that you "tag" the animal with DNR provided tags. Also, some states require the color Blaze Orange to be worn at all times.
  • A number of American states have "concealed-carry" laws which enable people to possess a firearm in their handbag, jacket, car glovebox, etc. Should these people encounter a life-threatening situation, they may react with lethal force. Very few criminal incidents by people possessing these permits have been recorded. Don't cause trouble, and this should pose no danger to you.
  • Property owners may defend their homes with firearms. If in rural areas, do not cross land posted as private property without permission from the owner.

Clinics in USA

Spa/Wellness Zena Day Spa
Zena's full array of spa services is augmented by fantasy adventure time travel, via the replication of Egyptian Pharoahs, Queens, Sphinxes, desert landscapes, and other iconic symbols of ancient Egyptian lore. This is all... more
 1 Fans, Mid Range, Varies, in Culver City
Community Clinic Venice Family Clinic
In a relatively short itme, Venice Family Clinic has grown from a little storefront operation into a community health system with seven clinic sites in Venice, Santa Monica, Inglewood, Mar Vista, and Culver City. The main ... more
Free, in Venice
 
Community Clinic Yo-San Acupuncture Clinic
Yo-San is a community-oriented clinic that provides hands-on experience for Yo-San University students. Each intern is closely supervised by a highly trained licensed acupuncturist and/or Doctor of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) to treat the public with neve... more
Low Budget, $35 for acupuncture session, in Westside
Community Clinic World Medical Mission Center
A free community clinic offering both medical and legal services. Primarily serves the Korean community, but is open to anyone and English is spoken.                   ... more
Free, Donation request, in Koreatown
 
Spa/Wellness Tikkun Spa
In this frenetically-paced city, Tikkun Holistic Spa is a sanctuary of serenity and renewal within the urban jungle.   Korean style ambiance combined with modern upgrades of old folk remedies define Tikkun. The t... more
Mid Range, $38 base, in Santa Monica
Spa/Wellness Beverly Spa
This is the original Korean spa that set a trend and put everyone else on the map. Beverly advertises 100% natural hot springs bubbling up from underground Koreatown, the one and only in L.A.  Scrubs, massages, facials, cold bath, sauna, steam room are avai... more
Mid Range, $30 base, in Koreatown
 




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