It’s well and good planning your dream adventure, getting there safely with all the right gear and having an awesome guide to make your trip safe and exciting, but getting sick could ruin everything! And there are many ways to get sick in the Himalaya if you don’t take basic precautions to keep yourself in good shape.
The most common types of illness while you’re in the mountains, or even in the cities are:
• food and drink related (i.e. stomach)
• altitude related (lungs and head)
• virus related (i.e. coughs and colds)
The good news is that all of these types of illnesses can be kept at bay with some basic precautions. No matter how careful you are, you may succumb to bad luck, but it’s best to give yourself the best opportunity to stay healthy. I’ll discuss some of the things to do and be aware of while in India in order to keep your body in great shape to enjoy your adventure.
Before you Travel
You should be thinking about your health before you even land in Delhi. This means eat well, make sure you have lots of healthy food, packed with vitamins, sleep well, exercise well and stay fit, and last but not least, visit your doctor for advice on vaccinations.
Take a look at the following website for good vaccination advice for India:
India is somewhat of a confusing country in that wealth and poverty go hand in hand. In general restaurant hygiene standards shouldn’t be assumed to be up to those in developed countries. Having said that, there are now a lot of very good restaurants in the Capital, serving really good quality and clean food.I won’t go into the details of vaccinations as I am not a doctor, but suffice to say it’s a very important consideration before heading off. Give yourself at least a month before you travel to see your doctor, as some vaccinations take time to start working.
I tend to go by the following rules in Delhi:
1) Only eat hot, freshly cooked food. This ensures pathogens have been killed
2) Avoid salads or fruits unless you can peel the fruit yourself (e.g. bananas and oranges) - you can't be sure how the fruits and vegetables have been washed
3) Avoid ice in drinks - again you cannot be sure of the origin of the ice
4) Only drink bottled drinks that have sealed caps or metal bottle tops - this includes water. Water dispensers are also fine.
5) When showering avoid ingesting the water
6) When washing teeth use bottled water to wash the brush and your mouth
7) Use hand sanitizer before meals and snacks
In short, only put things in your mouth that you can trust.
In The Mountains
My personal view is that food is much cleaner along the trekking trails than it is in the cities. That said the same precautions should be applied as in Delhi. No salads, only fluids who’s source you trust, hand sanitizer before meals etc. There are some additional things to consider when trekking though.
Shoe laces - it might sound strange at first, but your shoe laces could get you in a lot of trouble. The trekking routes are used by a lot of pack animals, as well as by humans. Animals are less concerned about where they relieve themselves (usually) and your shoe laces could get covered in all sorts of stuff you want no where near your mouth. Therefore, if you tie your laces before a meal, or take your shoes off when resting at lunch, get the sanitizer out!
The toilet - oh the toilets in the mountains are something no one ever forgets. Because you will generally be camping on an Indian trek, the toilet will be dug afresh at each campsite, before being filled over when we leave. This improves hygiene and environmental impact, but you can still get sick if you're not careful. Keep the sanitizer close by and wash you hands thoroughly if possible.
Altitude Sickness (AMS)
The bigger health issue in the mountains though, is altitude sickness. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) effects everyone eventually, but the severity of its effects and the altitude at which these effects come into place are different for everyone. There is no pattern for who gets sick and who doesn’t either, so it is hard to predict. There are very clear symptoms of this issue though. They include:
• Lack of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
• Pins and needles
• Shortness of breath upon exertion
• Persistent rapid pulse
• General malaise
• Swelling of hands, feet, and face
Your guide will always been assessing you (although you may not know it) and will inform you when altitude will start to become an issue. Some people start feeling its effects as low as 2,000m, but most people begin to notice it at 3,500m or higher.
The most important thing is to listen to your body and be honest with yourself and your guide. Altitude sickness should not be taken lightly. Ignored it can become a killer, but well managed and it shouldn’t get worse than some headaches and a temporary loss of appetite. Don’t obsess about it or worry too much. Just be aware of it.The way to look at your trekking pace is to think about the slowest rate at which you would walk normally, and then slow it down by another third. It may feel painfully slow when you first do this, but the result will be that your body will not be put under physical stress, allowing it time to adjust to the higher elevations. By far the best way to avoid serious altitude issues is to combine a lot of fluids with taking things slowly. A rule of thumb for water is that for every 1,000m higher than 3,000m, you should add an additional 1 litre of water on top of a base amount of 2.5 litres for ladies and 3 litres for men. That means that at Everest Base Camp (5,380m) a man should be drinking around 5 litres of water a day, while trekking