India: Things you need to be aware of to look after your health

India, located in South Asia, is full of amazing places to see from the natural astounding Himalayas to one of the newly voted seven wonders, the Taj Mahal. India’s economy is growing at a fast rate but still throughout India there is a lot of poverty, deprivation and limited public health services. But don’t let this put you off a trip to India, here are some things you need to be aware of to look after your health whilst in India.

Vaccinations

Make sure that you visit your health care provider at least 6 weeks prior to your trip to India to get any vaccinations you might require. Many countries recommend different vaccinations but the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following vaccinations for travellers going to India to look after their health.

Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR vaccine) – Ensure you are up to date with these vaccines which you may have had as a child.

Adult diphtheria & tetanus – Single booster recommended if none in the previous 10 years.

Hepatitis A – This vaccine will protect you for up to a year and then, following a booster after 12 months, you will have protection for another 20 years.

Hepatitis B – If you are a frequent traveller you might have already had this as this is now routine for most travel.

Polio – You will have most likely had this vaccination as a child. You require one booster as an adult for lifetime protection.

Typhoid – Recommended for everyone travelling to India and also a lot of other areas in the world. This is required every 2-3 years to maintain protection whilst travelling.

Varicella – You may require this vaccination if you have not had chickenpox.

If you are planning on travelling in India for longer than one month then you might want to consider these vaccinations:

Japanese B encephalitis – This is a total of three injections in all and a booster after two years.

Meningitis – This is recommended for backpackers under the age of 25.

Rabies – This is given over three injections. You are also able to have treatment if you get bitten. However, it is complicated to do this whilst travelling. Recommended if you are going to be in close contact with animals whilst travelling in India.

Tuberculosis (TB) – Only one vaccine is given in a lifetime so you may have already had this.

When travelling to India from Africa/South America:

Yellow Fever – This is the only vaccine that you have to have by international regulations. You need to have proof of this if you have been in South America or Africa six days prior to entering India.

Water

To look after your health whilst in India, it is not advisable to drink the tap water or clean your teeth with it. Buy bottled water but make sure the seal is intact so you know it has not been refilled. Avoid ice in your drinks, uncooked fruits and salads which have been washed in tap water or fruit drinks which have been watered down with tap water. Boiling of water is usually the most efficient way of purifying it to make sure it is safe to drink. Also look at water filters such as products like Lifestraw and be aware that as per the European Union (EU) directive, iodine is no longer to be used to disinfect drinking water.

Food

It is difficult to stop the risks from contaminated foods, but there are food types that you can avoid to reduce any risk to your health whilst in India. Some of these foods are:

  • Salads and uncooked fruit and vegetables unless washed or peeled by you.
  • Raw or undercooked meat, fish or shellfish, including oysters.
  • Fresh or cooked food such as buffets that have been left uncovered.
  • Unpasteurised dairy products, like milk, cheese, ice cream and yoghurt.

A lot of people avoid food from street traders in India as they are worried about the effect on their health. However, if you can see it being cooked in front of you and it is served on clean plates then this should not be too much of a problem. Make sure you go to a street trader that is busy with locals. It is a sign of a good meal. This is something to stick by when visiting restaurants too.

Make sure that when you are travelling long term that you still eat healthily. Sometimes when you are in another culture with different food types, this can be difficult but it is important you eat a balanced diet and foods which will leave you energised to see all the amazing sites of India.

Travellers’ diarrhoea

Traveller’s diarrhoea is defined as the passage of more than three watery bowel movements within 24 hours, plus another symptom, such as nausea, vomiting, fever, cramps, or feeling generally unwell. This is by far the most common problem affecting travellers health in India. By using the advice above about food and water, you can help avoid this. You can also reduce your risk by avoiding meat and fish during your time.

If you are suffering from travellers diarrhoea when travelling in India, you can improve your health by staying well hydrated using a rehydration sachet. Try not to use an antidiarrheal unless completely necessary, as this will keep the bugs in your body for longer. If the symptoms become too bad or you have blood in your stools, then seek medical advice about taking antibiotics.

Mosquitos

Malaria – Malaria is a serious and potentially deadly disease. Seek advice prior to travel as antimalarials may be required depending on the area you are visiting whilst in India. The most common symptom of malaria is fever, but you may also get headaches, diarrhoea and cold-like symptoms.

Dengue Fever – this is a mosquito-borne which is endemic in over 100 countries around the world. Symptoms include; high fever, muscle and joint pains, headache, nausea, vomiting and rash. Treatment is to ease the symptoms rather than cure the Dengue Fever and in most cases, Dengue Fever will cure itself leading to natural immunity. Taking paracetamol and plenty of rest will help. However, concerns are that severe cases of Dengue Fever can lead to death, therefore, seek medical advice in the more serious cases.

To reduce your risks of Malaria and Dengue Fever, try and prevent getting bitten by mosquitos. Use a DEET-based insect repellent on the exposed skin especially at dawn and dusk when the female mosquito is more active. Wear long sleeves at these times and if in a high-risk area, sleep under a mosquito net impregnated with pyrethrin. Use a mosquito coil and insect repellents in your room. Use a fan in your room whilst sleeping as the mosquitos will find it harder to fly in the circulating air.

Women’s safety

Females need to practice caution when travelling alone in India. Reports of sexual assaults against local females are high and this has been known to extend to foreign females. Respect their culture and dress respectfully. Just last year an Irish female was attacked and murdered in Goa, the place in India which is more relaxed and where people drop their guard. You can find lots of tips about how to stay safe in India as a woman here by a solo female traveller who has been to India five times.

Heat

Protect yourself from the sun as even on a cloudy day, you can burn quickly. One great way to reduce the risk of heat stroke is to make sure you drink plenty to avoid dehydration. Drink rehydration solution if you feel that you are suffering from dehydration.

Other things to know to take care of your health whilst in India

  • Alcohol gel is a great thing to have where hand washing isn’t available.
  • In certain areas in India, particularly the Himalayas, you can get altitude sickness. Be aware when travelling at an altitude that you need to move slowly and give your body the change to adjust.
  • Altitude sickness can occur in certain regions, so let your body adjust to the elevation slowly, and keep hydrated.
  • India has venomous snakes so if you are bitten make sure you look at the markings and seek help urgently.
  • As always, make sure you have good travel insurance.
  • If you need emergency assistance during your time in India, dial 102.

Check out this article on how travelling can improve your health.

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This post was written by Kathy James

Before setting off as a solo female adventure traveller to explore the roads less travelled and immerse in different culture around the world, Kathy was a Community Matron (Advanced Nurse Practitioner) where she worked closely with patients suffering from long term conditions, and using education, medication and lifestyle changes, helped to reduce hospital admissions. She is also trained in end of life care, tissue viability and leg ulcer management as well as a range of other areas within community nursing. She currently runs a successful travel blog, Walkabout Wanderer.

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