If you are an experienced globetrotter you might know not everything related to travelling is rose colored, specially if healthy issues start to appear.
Probably the most feared common illness is diarrhea. Its awkward, inconvenient and mood-breaking symptoms might make you laugh many years later when remembering, but there is nothing funny about it, specially if you are away from home and proper caring.
Nothing prepares you in advance to avoid diarrhea, you just need to be cautious and sometimes being lucky. Being cautious mean to evaluate every situation in which you eat or drink, because we all know street food is always appealing, or sometimes the only option. But the thing is, not just street food can be harmful, also eating in places where sanitary or hygienic conditions are not the best, represent a possible infection source. Now, being lucky means not to fall sick after taking all the common sense precautions, because there are so many other factors out of our control that you might get paranoid trying to tackle all the situations.
Here some tips to help you out:
Always drink bottled (please recycle after used), filtered, boiled or somehow treated water. In Peru tap water is not safe to drink.
Avoid most, if not all kind, of street food. Yes, this is an unpopular recommendation but is the safest.
Always wash your hands before eating. Carry antibacterial gel with you all the time.
Always follow your instinct, if you are at least a little concerned about what you are about to eat, then reject it.
Peruvians are very used to eat all kind of food in all kinds of situations no matter how outrageous it might seems. But not for nothing is also a country with high incidence of typhoid fever.
By the way, you can get a shot for typhoid but that won’t make you a 100% immune, so keep taking your precautions.
But what if you fall sick? Well, never take the situation too easy, if the symptoms persist for more than a couple of days, or if you experience constant vomiting, headache, bodyache, fever or other signs besides of those that can be considered related to food poisoning, don’t hesitate to ask for medical assistance.
Keep yourself well hydrated, this is probably the most important thing that you can do on your own. But instead of pure water go for the isotonic drinks like Gatorade or over-the-counter-medication like Pedialyte.
This said, let’s get high…I mean, let’s talk about altitude sickness (Am I above 8,000 feet?). Sometimes it is just confusing, but this is actually one of the symptoms from a long list, let’s say:
Difficulty sleeping, Dizziness or light-headedness, Fatigue, Headache, Loss of appetite, Nausea or vomiting, Rapid pulse (heart rate), Shortness of breath with exertion.
Now, and this is addressed to sport climbers and mountain enthusiasts, we don’t want to scare you out, but things can get serious specially if you are making great efforts going higher trying to conquer a summit:
Blue color to the skin (cyanosis), Chest tightness or congestion, Confusion, Cough, Coughing up blood, Decreased consciousness or withdrawal from social interaction, Gray or pale complexion, Can not walk in a straight line (or walk at all), Shortness of breath at rest
But, why is all this happening? The answer is simple, reduced air pressure and lower concentration of oxygen. This is a combination of circumstances occurring normally when above 8,000 feet, and affecting people coming from low elevation places, like the coast, that haven’t took the time to acclimatize their organism. Yes, this is the key, acclimatizing!
For example, if you fly from Lima to Cuzco or Puno in the morning, take the rest of the day easy. Drink a lot of fluids, and consider coca leaf´s infusion as a prime alternative. Keep a low fat diet, and take plenty of carbs. No alcohol under any circumstance, I know, another unpopular recommendation but keep it at least until your body gets used to the new set of conditions.
If you are planning to climb Huascaran, or any of the forty highest peaks of the country, well you know you have to be physically prepared and camp at regular intervals to acclimatize.
There are other ways of preventing the effects of altitude. Ask your doctor about Diamox (acetazolamide) and its side effects aside the fact is going to make you pee a lot, remember you want to stay well hydrated. In Peru, Sorojchi Pills is an over-the-counter medication (soroche means altitude sickness) which components are basically aspirin and caffeine.
Bottled oxygen is also a great thing to keep handy. This is a product you can’t take in your carry-on on the plane but don’t turn blue because you can find it in different places along Peru, just check the Oxy-force website and prevent any lack of oxygen.
This said, relax and have a great experience conquering any restaurant or summit you want in our country.
Banner from Jesse Wagstaff via Flickr
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