The most common types of illnesses are caused by contaminated food and water. Drink only bottled, boiled, or purified water; don't drink from public fountains or beverages with ice. Tap water in Beijing is safe for brushing teeth, but you're better off buying bottled water to drink. Make sure food has been thoroughly cooked and is served to you fresh and hot. If you have problems, mild cases of traveler's diarrhea may respond to Imodium (known generically as loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids; if you can't keep fluids down, seek medical help immediately.
Infectious diseases can be airborne or passed via mosquitoes and ticks and through direct or indirect physical contact with animals or people. Some, including Norwalk-like viruses that affect your digestive tract, can be passed along through contaminated food. Condoms can help prevent most sexually transmitted diseases, but they aren't absolutely reliable and their quality varies from country to country. China is notorious for fake condoms, so it might be best to bring your own from home or get them from a health clinic. Speak with your physician or check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization websites for health alerts, particularly if you're pregnant, traveling with children, or have a chronic illness.
Specific Issues in Beijing
Pneumonia and influenza are common among travelers returning from China—talk to your doctor about inoculations before you leave. If you need to buy prescription drugs, use pharmacies of reputable private hospitals.
Most pharmacies carry over-the-counter Western medicines and traditional Chinese medicines. By and large, you need to ask for the generic name of the drug you're looking for, not a brand name.
Shots and Medications
No immunizations are required for entry into China, but it's a good idea to be immunized against typhoid and hepatitis A and B before traveling to Beijing; also a good idea is to get routine shots for tetanus-diphtheria and measles. In winter, a flu vaccination is also smart.
National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 800/232-4636; www.cdc.gov/travel.
World Health Organization. www.who.int.