How not to get sick while traveling in India
TRAVEL IN INDIA, and in so many other places, definitely has its challenges. But that’s no reason not to go. In fact, it often seems the greater the challenge, the greater the reward! One of the biggest fears a lot of people have about traveling in a so-called ‘developing’ nation or region like India (or Thailand, Africa, and Southeast Asia) is getting sick. There are many things you can do to avoid getting sick while traveling in India.
Over many years of experience, I’ve learned how to help prevent travel sickness, how to help prevent and cure travelers diarrhea aka Delhi Belly, what foods to eat and what foods to avoid, what medicines to take, and generally how to stay healthy in India and while traveling in Asia — and I’ve rounded up all my best tips in this post including My top 10 tips on how to avoid getting sick in India (see below).
My own experience is that there’s usually nothing to fear but fear itself. A positive attitude, a healthy immune system, and liberal doses of resilience, resourcefulness, caution, and common sense are usually enough to get most travelers through most situations. But here are some tips that I’ve discovered for preventing and coping with the most common issues travelers face in India such as travelers diarrhea.
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Top 10 tips to prevent getting sick in India and to stay healthy on the road
- Visit a travel medical clinic and get the appropriate vaccinations and recommendations.
- Drink only safe water such as RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water or bottled water.
- Eat only freshly cooked foods. Avoid raw foods and fruit that can’t be peeled. Watch for water in ice and sauces. Don’t eat food that’s been sitting around, especially outdoors.
- Avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitoes in India can carry malaria and dengue and other infections. Use DEET.
- Take Travelan 48 hours before you start traveling, and before each meal during your trip.
- Take shelf-stable probiotics every day, or eat home-made yogurt.
- Stay hydrated and wear a hat or scarf to prevent sunstroke, which is all too common in India.
- Dress appropriately for both the culture and the weather. Loose, flowing, cotton clothing is ideal for the heat and the need for modesty. Read more about What to wear in India here.
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Bring your own medications.
How can I avoid getting sick in India?
The main health related issues you could face in India are:
- travelers diarrhea (locally known as Delhi Belly)
- dengue and other vector borne diseases
- rabies from dog bites, monkey scratches, or other animals
- typhoid, hepatitis, and tetanus
Most of this post is about preventing and managing travelers diarrhea and Delhi Belly, which is by far the most common illness travelers face in India. However, I also want to underline the importance of preventing dengue and other vector borne diseases such as malaria by wearing long sleeves and pants, and using a mosquito repellent that contains DEET. Most hotel rooms also have plug-in devices to prevent mosquitoes, so I highly recommend using them. There are no vaccines for dengue, which is common in India, so preventing mosquito bites is the best strategy.
Rabies is a very serious disease that can result in death if not treated, so if you are bitten or scratched by an animal in India, you must seek treatment immediately, within 24 hours. You will need to get a course of shots over several days. There is a rabies vaccine, but you still need to get treated with shots if you are bitten or scratched, so most people don’t bother with the vaccine.
Other potential diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis, and tetanus can be prevented by vaccine. I recommend visiting a travel medical clinic to find out what you need for India at the time you are going.
If you are getting travel vaccinations for the first time, you really have to start early. Visit a travel medical clinic to find out what’s recommended. Start getting your vaccines three months before you depart. The first time I went to India, I needed several vaccinations, including Twinrix (for hepatitis A and B). Thank goodness I started getting my vaccinations early because I ended up needing four shots of Twinrix before it “took!”
How can I prevent travelers diarrhea and stay healthy in India?
When I first went to India, I had never been on a long-term trip, and never to anywhere like India. Unfortunately, a visit to the travel medical clinic scared me into worrying about all kinds of potential disasters, and I arrived in Delhi with half-a-suitcase of medical supplies. My hosts, an Indian family, laughed. It was as if I was going into the deepest darkest jungle — instead of a sophisticated city with state-of-the-art modern medical clinics.
Now, I have pared that bag down considerably. I have come to realize that not only can I get almost everything I need in India, but it will be cheaper and more suited to the conditions there.
Ultimately traveling will always have risks involved that usually include being ill or sick. If you are careful, mindful and sensible about the food, and do some research, you can still be adventurous.
As I mentioned above, travelers diarrhea or Delhi Belly is the most common sickness a traveler might face in India. Statistics show that travellers’ diarrhea is the leading health problem in international travel affecting up to 70% of travellers. It is hard to avoid completely but there are many steps you can take to help prevent getting sick in India.
The first step is to prepare your immune system with a positive attitude and lifestyle, to make yourself healthy for travel. There is no substitute for a strong immune system, plus using common sense when you travel. You also need to learn what medications and supplements to take and also what foods and drinks to avoid in India.
Through many years of trial-and-error, here is what I have learned and what I carry with me to prevent getting sick in India.
Travelan is an over the counter medication available in pharmacies across Canada. Travelan helps to stop travelers diarrhea before it starts, whereas anti-diarrheal products simply relieve symptoms once you are ill. The Travelan antibodies lay in wait in the gastrointestinal tract, neutralizing any incoming bacteria and inhibiting them from their attachment to the intestinal tract, essentially reducing the risk of becoming infected with bacteria that can cause travelers diarhhea.
Clinical studies have proven Travelan can reduce the risk of infection and provide up to 90% protection from travelers diarrhea. In Australia, Travelan is also indicated to reduce the symptoms of minor gastrointestinal disorders. Take one or two caplets before each meal, three times per day, starting 48 hours before travel and during the period of travel.
Shelf-stable travel probiotics are one of the best things you can take while traveling. I especially like to start about a week before leaving, and then I take one every day for the first few weeks. I also supplement by eating home-made yogurt (known as curd in India), which is full of healthy probiotics.