How to avoid getting sick in India

In today’s live ChangeMooc session with Antonio Vantaggiato  (which I will come to  again in another post), I was sorry to hear that Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Dave Cormier all suffered from ‘Delhi Belly’ as a result of their trip to India. I wish I had shared my strategies for avoiding this earlier.

Here is what an Indian friend advised me to do when visiting India – which I have done ever since and have, as a result, avoided the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ on all occasions bar one, when I let my guard down after coming down to Srinagar from the Himalayas. It was ironic that I managed to not be sick in Nepal, despite camping and having no proper sanitation, but then getting sick (one day only) when arriving in Srinagar.

Anyhow – here are my strategies for both avoiding getting sick and for getting well quickly after getting sick.

Avoiding getting sick in India

  • Go vegetarian during your stay, i.e. don’t eat meat or fish
  • Don’t eat salad
  • Don’t have ice in your drinks
  • Only drink water from a bottle with a sealed cap. If you buy one, check that the cap is sealed (i.e. the bottle has not been refilled)
  • Only eat fruit which has been peeled
  • Use disinfectant hand wipes before putting anything near your mouth. Avoid putting your hands to your mouth
  • Only eat in reputable restaurants. Give them a good look over first (even hotel restaurants) and walk out if in doubt. More expensive – but worth it.
  • Never eat street vendors food. Could be fine – but is it worth the risk?

If you get sick

This is what I learned when living in Brazil, which I did for 7 years.

  • Don’t eat anything. People will say, have a bit of soup, a cracker, etc. but don’t. The idea is to starve the ‘bug’. You will feel weak, but do not start eating again until you are absolutely sure that you have got rid of the bug.
  • Drink water, water, water (safe water as above!). The idea is to flush out the bug.
  • Do not take ‘Imodium’ or any other such remedies, as they only trap the ‘bug’ inside and it takes much longer to recover. Of course, sometimes this is impossible, e.g. if you have a plane to catch!

These strategies have worked for me over many visits to India. But I do have to be disciplined and strict with myself and follow my code to the letter, even when someone is trying to persuade me otherwise.

And I should end by saying that I absolutely love India. It is a stunning place to visit, culturally, historically and visually so rich, with wonderfully friendly and helpful people. I can really recommend it.

8 thoughts on “How to avoid getting sick in India

  1. brainysmurf March 29, 2012 / 6:00 pm

    This is great advice, Jenny, and I would say the very same holds true for my visits to Mexico over the years. I would add four recommendations to the list:

    1. Try not to swallow any water in the shower.

    2. Remember to use bottled water for brushing your teeth.

    3. Try not to swallow any sea water if you’re swimming.

    4. Gatorade and bananas are a big help for keeping up your electrolytes and a bit of energy.

    Sorry to hear the lads were so ill. Hope they feel better soon. 🙂

  2. Azim March 30, 2012 / 12:08 am

    Great advice. I am traveling to Cancun, Mexico in two weeks time.

  3. jennymackness March 30, 2012 / 7:55 am

    Hi brainysmurf – thanks for the uesful additions to the list, which all make sense, especially bottled water for brushing your teeth, which is so easy to forget 🙂

  4. vandewst (@stefaanvw) March 30, 2012 / 10:09 am

    Nice list, although I disagree strongly with one item, only eating in expensive restaurants. I would rather advise to visit restaurants where a lot of locals go as the food will be fresh and the quality likely higher. Expensive restaurants tend to look nice from the outside but use not-so-fresh ingredients for foreigners who won’t come back anyway.

  5. jennymackness April 1, 2012 / 9:04 am

    @vandewst (@stefaanvw) Thanks for your comment. I think you make a very good point about about not equating good restaurants with expensive restaurants and that a restaurant that is popular with the locals is likely to be one of high quality. As visitor from the UK, though, I would still be very careful about where I ate.

  6. brainysmurf April 4, 2012 / 12:34 am

    Agreed! Some of the fancier restaurants I saw in Mexico (Isla Mujeres, specifically) didn’t seem to have big enough crowds to ensure fresh food. And some of the street vendors were great, very fresh. I miss the fresh coconut milk!

    Azim, if you get the chance for a day trip from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, it’s well worth it. Playa Norte (north beach) is a 5 min. walk from the ferry and you’ll find nice vendors on the side streets (avoid the ones on the two main streets). Isla Contoy is also fantastic (bird sanctuary and beach) as a day trip from Cancun if you like. Enjoy and safe travels!

  7. Lucy H May 13, 2012 / 12:41 pm

    The only thing I would argue is on the imodium. Imodium does not trap the bug as a bug is not eradicated by the sickness symptoms – thats all they are, symptoms – a result of the toxins etc of the bug. What gets rid of the bug is your immune system e.g. say you get the dreaded parasite gardia in india – the tummy trouble is a result of the parasite, but no amount of going to the toilet will get rid of the parasite – only antibiotics, therefore imodium will not ‘trap’ in the bug. My source? I am a med student.

  8. jennymackness May 13, 2012 / 3:32 pm

    Hi Lucy – thanks for that comment. But would you say that starving yourself and drinking loads of water helps? It’s what I’ve always done and it’s always worked, but maybe I’ve never had anything serious. I’ve never had to take antibiotics.


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