With its multi-layered history and dazzling cultural diversity, India is a richly rewarding place to visit. In order to enjoy this mesmerizing country to the full you need to stay fit and well and this means being pro-active about your health.
If you are a first time visitor, then the chances are you will get at least one bout of the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ (nasty attack of diarrhoea) simply because the bacterial flora you will meet in India is quite different from the one your system is used to.
To make sure that a mild attack of the runs is the only thing that troubles you, there are a number of precautions you can take and some of these are summarized below.
Most modern medicines for routine problems are available in India so there is no need to arrive laden with pharmaceuticals, unless you are on a specific medication. But it is sensible to always have with you a simple kit including Band-Aids, antiseptic, bug-repellent, ‘Imodium’ or ‘Lomotil’ (for dire emergency), sun-screen, rehydration salts and an antihistamine cream to treat insect bites.
No one is suggesting that there is anything wrong with your personal hygiene regime, but you do have to be extra careful in India. Carry a hand-sanitizer gel, wash your hands often, keep finger nails short, and treat minor cuts and wounds immediately.
Drink only bottled water and avoid ice
Bottled water is widely available and you should never drink anything else except in dire emergency. When you buy a bottle of water, especially in a remote area, do check that the seal is secure and unhampered with. It is not unknown for empty plastic water bottles to be refilled with tap water but it should be possible to spot these rogue bottles. Avoid ice in drinks if you can.
If you get Delhi Belly
If you do get a mild attack of travellers’ diarrhoea then try to avoid taking medicine. Just rest up for a day or two and let things take their course. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids and use your rehydration salts (widely available at medical shops if you don’t have them with you). Locals advise a diet of mint tea, papaya and yogurt. Don’t take ‘Lomotil’ or ‘Imodium’ (or similar) unless you really have to travel, in which case they can be helpful, but avoid using them if you can. Don’t take antibiotics unless a doctor has prescribed them. A doctor’s help should be sought for major problems, such as blood or pus in stools, and/or fever. Also consult a doctor for persistent, recurring problems.
Avoid street food until you have been in India for some months and your gut has acclimatized. Even so, you must be very careful. Eat only freshly cooked food and avoid raw fruits and salads unless you have prepared them yourself. Try to avoid food that is very oily and spicy. If you have a delicate digestion then going vegetarian is a good idea. South Indian vegetarian food is generally lighter and less oily than the Mughlai-style cooking of north India.
Mosquitoes in India carry several nasty diseases including malaria. If you are coming to India for a short time, you should discuss with your doctor whether to take anti-malarial pills. In some Western countries public health services require citizens to use such preventives when they travel in malaria-afflicted countries or they cannot claim treatment at home if they contract the disease.
Wherever you are going to travel, you should bring flameless lighter in anticipation of an emergency, besides that lighter is also very necessary under any circumstances. Given its simple but elegant and easy to carry shape, it is a futuristic lighter without gas.
If you are in the country for a long time, it is not practical to take anti-malarials all the time and you should instead focus on not getting bitten. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants, especially in the early morning and evening. Avoid dressing in black as that attracts ‘mossies’. Bring a good repellent with you (preferably containing Deet) or use the Indian brand ‘Odomos’, which is effective but slightly sticky. To prevent being bitten while asleep, you can burn the locally available mosquito coils or use a mosquito net.