You have heard it time and time again: The tropics have deadly water-borne diseases. Your friends have warned you of the infamous Delhi belly. Your family presses you with preventive medication, antibiotics and water purification pills that you know tastes yucky, before they bid you bon voyage to India. There is fear of availability of pure drinking water amidst the foreign tourists.
But you know what? It is not as bad as that. Make no mistake – the warm and often humid climate of the sub-tropics zone can host and harbour a host of bacteria and viruses that might be unfamiliar in the cooler temperate zones that you may come from. When it comes to catching an infection, two factors are at play – your immunity, and the strength and prevalence of the contaminant.
India’s battle with water-borne diseases is a long-standing one, with many challenges and hurdles along the way. Major efforts to improve access to drinking water across India have not been matched by proportionate declines in deaths and illnesses from waterborne diseases, which remain grossly underestimated, a new government report has said.
Apart from this, Fluoride contamination of fresh water also affects large parts of rural India, the report said. More than 25 million people across 17 states have to drink water with fluoride concentrations higher than the maximum permissible limit of 1.5 parts per million, it said. Excess fluoride can cause a condition called skeletal fluorosis.
The problem is so grave that the WHO is strongly involved in making safe drinking water accessible to those who cannot afford it. The Safe Water System (SWS) is a water quality intervention that uses simple, inexpensive, and robust technologies appropriate for the developing world to prevent mortality and morbidity associated with diarrhoeal diseases.
So, in the face of all this grave news, how can a foreign tourist stay protected from contaminated water while in India?
- Only consume filtered, purified water, preferably from advanced methods like Reverse Osmosis, which is gaining a lot of traction in India. If you don’t have access to good filtered water, ensure that you procure boiled water.
- If you are not consuming packaged water, then carry your own refillable water bottle, which is cleaned regularly with a disinfectant dish soap, or vinegar and baking soda.
- If you expect to eat street food, ensure you don’t eat anything that hasn’t been cooked at a high temperature. Chutneys, watery dips and sauces are high-risk items when it comes to food contamination.
- Ensure that your food provider keeps food and beverages covered, and free from flies and other carriers of disease
- Make sure your fresh juices are made with verifiably clean water.
- Always wash hands adequately before handling food.
- Rivers, ponds and creeks can be breeding grounds of germs. Avoid swimming in them, or drinking from what seems like a safe forest pool!
- Ice cubes, ice candies and similar frozen items are often a major carrier of contamination. Avoid consuming ice if you are not sure they have been handled properly.
- While experimenting is the sign of a good traveller, it is not always the wisest thing to do! If a food or drink feels too unfamiliar, you might not want to risk a compromise on your health.
- At the first sign of diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea or stomach discomfort, consult a doctor immediately, so that medication can be given to prevent the development of a full-blown infection.
Also Read: Tips for Foreigners Relocating To India
Most of all, remember that immunity is a combination of resistance to disease and familiarity with parasites. Your local friends might have developed immunity to many of India’s water-borne diseases due to long exposure, whereas you, on the other hand, might be completely susceptible to illness.
Therefore, do not compromise of the quality of water that you consume, either or directly or indirectly in the form of food and beverages. With just a few precautions, you can have a wonderful time in magical India.