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Health and Fitness in India

Here are some travel medical tips, which will help make sure you're prepared for anything.

1) Blood Types

You should know your blood type and that of your friends/family who you're traveling with. India doesn't have a blood bank, so if you need blood, you need someone who's willing to donate it for you. I had to do this once, when a friend of a friend was admitted to hospital. Hopefully, this will never happen to you, but if it does, you'll be prepared.

2) Travel Insurance

Yes, of course have travel insurance, you should never go anywhere without it, but that goes doubly for India! However, if you do need to get medical attention in India, it's not the end of the world. At least in the major cities, the hospitals are generally completely fine, though service in rural areas is less comprehensive. If anything happens which could be covered by your insurance, make sure you call your Insurance company right away, and let them direct you. They will know where you can get the best help.

3) Pharmaceuticals

A lot of the regular pharmaceuticals are available in India. Actually, one of the benefits is you can buy such items generally in individual units, rather than whole packets, so you can just buy what you need. The tip though, is that you should note down the names of the active ingredients of any pharmaceuticals you regularly use, as they are usually sold by that name rather than by brand names you might know. For example, if you had a headache, you can just buy 2 paracetamol tablets if that's what you need, as long as you know to ask for paracetamol and not by the brand name.

4) Malaria Tablets

These are available in India at much cheaper rates than where I live, something like 1/10 the price. So what I do is buy only 1 week's worth of malaria tablets from my doctor at home and then buy the rest when I get there. Again remember to ask for the active ingredient, not the brand name. But don't forget to buy them!

5) Immunization

While we're talking about preventative medication, make sure you check with your doctor for what immunization you will need before you go. Please don't leave this until the last minute, because some shots are a course of three, which you have to have some time apart. Ideally, go to the doctor approximately 6-8 weeks out from your departure. Many of the immunizations are valid for some years, so while it may cost a little for your first trip, you may only need boosters of one or another drug each time you go, depending how frequently.

There are some interesting diseases in India, none of which you want to go home with. For instance, I know someone who had to be sent home with Japanese Encephalitis, some years ago, so I definitely get immunized for that. Also Hepatitis shots are normal to get, but get the full recommendation from your doctor.

6) Lavender

This is a packing essential. Lavender is a calming herb, so you can put a little daub on each temple if you have a headache or are feeling stressed. It's also good for cuts and scratches etc as it's antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral.

7) First Aid Kit

I usually travel with a very small first aid kit, just in case. But here's the funny thing, I usually end up leaving it in my backpack while I'm out and about, so frankly it's not much use. If you're traveling on a tour, you can check with your tour company whether they will have a first aid kit with them. I usually only need small items like bandaids for blisters or paracetamol for a headache, so I usually just pick these up from a local pharmacy.

Drinking Water Tips

Use these drinking water tips to ensure neither you nor anyone else gets sick from dodgy water.

a) Use your eyes and nose on Bottled Water

Make sure you carefully inspect your bottled water bottles. If anything seems amiss, don't drink it. Just get rid of it and buy another bottle somewhere else. I found no troubles when buying from a regular store, even 'hole in the wall' kind of small stores, but I did have one bottle that was very suspect when I was last in Lucknow. I was very thirsty and bought from the nearest vendor. Even though I inspected the seal and both the hard plastic seal and the clear plastic overwrap were intact, when I opened the bottle, it smelled a bit funny, definitely more like dodgy tap water than spring water.

I found out later that Indian scam artists are as skilled as any other artisans. I was told that there is a way to refill the bottles through a small hole in the bottom, which is then replugged with plastic... which brings me to my the next tip:

When you finish with a bottle of bottled water, crush it (I think they even put directions on some of the bottles to ask you to). This is to make sure that the bottle is not easily refilled with tap water and sold on to the next unsuspecting customer!

b) Check for Filtered Water in Restaurants

If you're in a mid-range type of restaurant, not a 5 star but not a 'hole in the wall' on the street, you may be able to drink the water they offer you. Just ask if they have filtered water. Many places, which cater to foreigners, have learned that we can't stomach the local tap water and supply filtered water for you free.

However, if you suspect that the waiter may not have understood you or is just saying Yes to whatever you ask (yes, this stereotype does have some merit!), then it's probably not worth the risk - buy a bottle.

Bottled Water in India (Mineral and Drinking)

Staying hydrating while traveling India has never been easier. Over the years, the proliferation of bottled water in stores and roadside stalls has eased any worry or need to buy in mass quantities at one time. In the 7 years of being a tourist of India, I've gone from buying a case of water immediately after arriving, to just purchasing a few bottles at a time. You're never very far from a stall selling water, even in some of the most remote places.

Do follow some general rules on water consumption while in India:

a) Avoid tap water, even in hotels. Exception: Some 5 star hotels will place a notice regarding their water filtration system. In this case the property will specifically make note that the water is drinkable.

b) Never ever drink water from roadside vendors selling well water. Regardless if it is pumped in front of you, that water is not at all safe for many reasons. Pesticides and other chemicals that are allowable and/or uncontrolled in India have been proven to have contaminated the ground water in many regions of the country.

c) When visiting restaurants, cafes, and even hotel dining rooms, insist on bottled (mineral) water. Nearly all eating establishments have bottled water on hand. If they don't, in pure Indian style they will send a staff member to pick up a bottle on the street without your knowledge. Servers at many locations may attempt to open the bottle and pour the first glass for the patrons. Kindly explain you will do this for yourself as it gives an opportunity to inspect the bottle.

d) Do not accept ice in any drinks no matter what establishment you are visiting. Years ago in Delhi I was dying for a mojito and later that night it felt like I was physically going to die.

e) Ensure the seal of the bottle is intact. Some vendors, in an effort to make more money, will recycle bottles by refilling them with tap water and replacing the cap. Also, see if there is anything floating in it before buying. Recently I purchased two bottles in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh without checking as I normally do. Back at the hotel I discovered one cap had been tampered with. Fortunately any issue of stomach problems was averted but unfortunately, I was out Rs. 20.

f) You may also come across water being sold in polythene bags. Don't drink it at all. Even this water is not safe.

g) If possible, look for Rohtang & Himalayan brand water. The taste difference is noticeably better and as in the US, they state where the water is sourced from meaning it's genuine mineral water. Other brands such as Aquafina, Kinley, Bisleri and Kingfisher are nothing more than purified drinking water.

h) Like many products in India, bottled water is individually priced by the vendor with a MRP (Maximum Retail Price). Most vendors will charge as marked on the bottle with a few asking for less. The highest I have seen and/or paid is Rs. 20 per bottle for Rohtang brand.

i) Hotels are legally allowed to charge more than MRP. Get your exercise by running to the nearest stall or market and save a significant amount of money by purchasing your water there.

Vaccination Tips

No vaccinations are required for entry into India for tourists, however the following are recommended by the CDC and Indian Government:

a) Routine: Recommended if you are not up-to-date with routine shots such as, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine, poliovirus vaccine, etc.

b) Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG): Recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to or working in countries with an intermediate or high level of hepatitis A virus infection where exposure might occur through food or water. Cases of travel-related hepatitis A can also occur in travelers to developing countries with "standard" tourist itineraries, accommodations, and food consumption behaviors.

c) Hepatitis B: Recommended for all unvaccinated persons traveling to or working in countries with intermediate to high levels of endemic HBV transmission, especially those who might be exposed to blood or body fluids, have sexual contact with the local population, or be exposed through medical treatment (e.g., for an accident).

d) Typhoid: Recommended for all unvaccinated people traveling to or working in South Asia, especially if visiting smaller cities, villages, or rural areas and staying with friends or relatives where exposure might occur through food or water.

e) Rabies: Recommended for travelers spending a lot of time outdoors, especially in rural areas, involved in activities such as bicycling, camping, or hiking. Also recommended for travelers with significant occupational risks (such as veterinarians), for long-term travelers and expatriates living in areas with a significant risk of exposure, and for travelers involved in any activities that might bring them into direct contact with bats, carnivores, and other mammals. Children are considered at higher risk because they tend to play with animals, may receive more severe bites, or may not report bites.

f) Japanese encephalitis: Recommended if you plan to visit rural farming areas and under special circumstances, such as a known outbreak of Japanese encephalitis.

g) Polio: Recommended for adult travelers who have received a primary series with either inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) or oral polio vaccine (OPV). They should receive another dose of IPV before departure. For adults, available data do not indicate the need for more than a single lifetime booster dose with IPV.

Complete information on health issues, vaccinations and more can be found at CDC online.


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