Health on the move – advice from the practitioner

There is no point in even mentioning how important our health is, because everyone has experienced first-hand how “annoying” life becomes when illness strikes. Even more so when traveling.

Health on the move - advice from the practitioner

In this material we will try to introduce you to the basic health problems associated with travel, with an emphasis on mountainous zones. The Caribbean, for example, has been deliberately omitted, but should any of you be heading there, much of the advice in this material will make it reasonably safe to go there as well.

During the writing process we were repeatedly faced with the dilemma of what to leave out due to the size of the text, so in the end we created something like a set of “road signs” for future travelers.

Very often it turned out that our travel experiences contradicted the principles described below by “Mrs. Doctor”. Well.

The part about absolute basics, I wrote based on years of experience and travel mainly in Asia.

Absolute basics

Basic hygiene

First of all, prevention. This is probably the basic statement and motto of this text. It is not too much, as always you have to avoid exaggeration, but the following rules should always be followed:
wash your hands as often as possible, definitely try to always (although it is not always possible) do it before each meal;
eat well, as well as possible.

However, the most important protection is the immunity of our body. Regardless of how we protect ourselves everywhere, and even more so in “wild” countries, we are bombarded with millions of germs, we can only reduce their number, but it is simply impossible to eliminate the risk.

Here I digress. A good example is the most popular fear of the tropics – amoeba. What people don’t do to protect themselves from this malignant protozoan! They sip everything with strong alcohol, or at least healthily abuse it (crazy idea in the tropics, causes dehydration). They avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables, juices, etc. (which causes a lack of essential vitamin sources). They avoid, or even do not eat local, traditional cuisine at all, because, for example, it is “too spicy”. (there’s a reason the natives use such hellish spices!).

They do not drink local yogurt, such as Indian lassi (they do not replace their own bacterial flora – one of the basic elements of defense). As a result, they weaken their bodies as best they can, although they do so with the opposite intention. Additionally, isolated from the local microorganisms, we do not have the opportunity to even very gradually gain immunity.

The end (according to my observations) is always the same. If not in the shower or while brushing teeth, then while washing up (yes, yes – in most Asian countries they don’t use toilet paper) they “catch” at best a fairly mild Giardia, and their weakened, dehydrated bodies are “broken down” without the slightest problem and they usually catch the next diseases. ;
do not overheat, it is often worse than chilling, in the tropics rather avoid the sun, I recommend hats, baseball caps, etc. headgear;
try to get enough sleep – I know that regularity is almost impossible when traveling, but still make sure you get enough;
this may sound trivial, but I know that some people need reminding: people, take care of your hygiene – wash often, use antifungal shampoos (e.g. selsun blue), antibacterial soaps (e.g. seltzer blue), and make sure you have a good night’s sleep. Use deodorant, not because it smells good (well, maybe it does), but because it repels small insects and parasites.

Very importantBefore leaving, carefully check your health. A general medical examination is an essential part of your preparation. One of the weakest points are the teeth, which must be completely healed before departure (even in the Alps). Every little dental problem is aggravated in the mountains by lowered blood pressure, the pain is also much greater, and often it starts hurting us from, say, 4650 m above sea level.

And then what? Return from trekking or climbing halfway? Regardless of everything – I strongly advise against using local dentists in “wild” countries, because often their only tools are a chisel, hammer and different sizes of pliers.

Get well and regularly – as much as possible. I know from experience that all sorts of things happen on travel, on expeditions, but nutrition is really the least appropriate element to save and neglect. You don’t have to eat expensive to eat well – fruits and vegetables are often the cheapest menu items. They are not among the perishable foods, so they are usually very safe. Remember that at high altitude the body experiences a negative or near-zero energy balance – so it is all the more important to eat rationally – as many vitamins as possible, ingredients easily assimilated.

Avoid meat dishes (especially in the tropics), undercooked and undercooked animal products.

Drink often, especially in hot or very cold climates, when exercising – you need at least 2.5 – 3 liters of water a day. Do not drink water from unreliable sources – try to drink only boiled, filtered, chemically treated water.

Store beverages only in appropriate containers. The best are aluminum, internally coated (anodized) SIGG bottles. They are odorless, do not react with acidic liquids, lightweight and very durable (I have been using one bottle intensively for 5 years). They also have the advantage over plastic ones that you can pour hot liquid into them. Wrapped in a fleece, down jacket, etc. they are not bad and very light thermos. Larger amounts of water are most conveniently stored in soft, textile (impregnated) reservoirs.

I would like to remind you that in the mountains, because of the altitude, water boils at a lower temperature – this entails the necessity of boiling water longer (sometimes even 10-15 minutes e.g. in Tibet) in order to disinfect it. For filtering I recommend Swiss KATADYN Mini Ceramic filters – small, light and very handy with pores no bigger than 0.2 micron (0.0002 mm!) – they completely remove bacteria and protozoa. The only problem is the unavailability on the Polish market. The closest stores are Globtrotter and Bannat in Berlin. I recommend Micropour liquid disinfectant – the most efficient and versatile product I’ve used so far. Of course it’s not available in Poland.

What we’re left with is unhealthy iodine in the amount of a few drops per 1 liter, depending on water pollution (more for dirty, turbid water). I don’t recommend drinking such water, but it is great for washing dishes, fruits and vegetables, and teeth. For the same (non-food) purpose potassium permanganate is excellent.

You should eat what grows, matures and is prepared locally – as much as possible of the cuisine of the natives. They know best how to eat in the area!

For storing medicines on the go, I recommend lightweight, inexpensive plastic containers for storing food items. They are available at household stores. They perform their function much better (compared to fabric first aid kits), as they protect tubes, ampoules and other components of our first aid kit from being crushed. You should also remember to provide the medicine with possibly isothermal conditions. That is why it is best to store the first aid kit inside the backpack, draped with clothing and other insulating materials.

I think it is also worth mentioning the division of the first aid kit. On long trips it is good to divide the medicines into two separate groups:
basic medications, daily or frequent use (bandages, NRC-eta, vitamins, painkillers, etc.); medications used during possible treatment should also be put into this group;
specialty medications that are rarely used (antibiotics, injections, needles and syringes, latex gloves, etc.).

Both groups of medications should be packed separately. The basic first aid kit (A) can be kept on top and easily removed when needed. The first aid kit (B), on the other hand, can be kept deeper without the need to constantly dig through your backpack.

Finally, I wish you to use both first and second first aid kits as seldom as possible!

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