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Travel advice: safe drinking water

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Breakfast on Aconcagua Argentina

Travel advice: safe drinking water

Travellers’ diarrhoea is the most likely illness anyone encounters on their holiday.

By following a few simple steps, you can avoid an upset stomach and enjoy an illness-free holiday in South America (and other parts of the world!).

The most common cause of water-borne illness is bacteria, such as E. coli, cholera and salmonella, but can also be caused by giardia and viruses like hepatitis A and polio.

 

The basics

  • Use your common sense when selecting where and what to eat. Ask your guides for advice;
  • Drink / brush your teeth / dentures etc with bottled / treated or boiled water; and
  • Always wash your hands before eating. Anti-bacterial hand wash gel is worth having, widely available and cheap;

 

In most South American towns and cities, public water is chlorinated and relatively safe, but may still cause mild stomach upset as your body is not used to the types of bacteria in the water.

If you want to ‘acclimatise’ to the tap water, start by brushing your teeth, and only drinking very small amounts

Treated or boiled water is better as less waste is produced then buying bottled water all the time. On our treks, boiled drinking water is supplied.

Tom said: “I’ve also used a Steripen to UV-treat tap water for years and it’s fantastic.

“I always have some micropur as well, which I use to sterilize water and then wash the mouth of my drinking bottle. A classic stomach infection comes from not cleaning this part of the bottle.”

 

Safe to drink and eat

Filtered, bottled, boiled or chemically treated water should be used.

Bottled fizzy drinks with an intact seal are usually safe, as are boiled water and hot drinks made with boiled water. Tea, coffee, juice, beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks are usually safe.

Avoid ice in drinks – that gin and tonic may come back with something worse than a hangover.

Wash all raw fruit and vegetables with treated water before eating them.

Don’t order salads unless you know everything was washed with treated water.

 

What to use to treat

Boiled water – one minute of a rolling boil – is the most reliable way to purify water not always possible/practical.

Kill bacteria and viruses with chemical disinfectants. Iodine and chlorine products, such as micropur, can usually be bought at larger chemists/travel and outdoors shops.

However, some parasites are not reliably killed with iodine or chlorine preparations. Combining iodine or chlorine with filtration using a specialist filter (bought from a travel shop) should be effective.

Domestic water filters designed for use in the UK are not suitable to treat water in South America.

NOTE: Iodine is considered the more effective but it’s not recommended to use it long-term.  Pregnant women should be careful and seek medical advice before using iodine.

 

And if you get sick?

Symptoms of illness from water usually include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, aches and/or chills.

Often these will clear up by themselves. Do be aware that if they worsen, or they start as very severe, then do seek medical attention.

Keep hydrated, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, but do take some rehydration salts.

If travelling to remote areas, it’s good to have a medical kit that includes some antibiotics (ask your GP before travel).

Contact us for more.

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