Image: Bairagi sadhu procession,
Vaishakha Amavasya 1998, Haridwar
(Photo courtesy of Kamalkanth Budhkar)
From a health perspective, we are traveling at the best time of year. Winter weather means there is little danger of dehydration or sunstroke, and sharply reduces the risk of insect-borne disease; the monsoon is long gone, and thus the gastro problems it can cause. Delhi winters DO see frequent temperature inversions, and the air quality is abysmal. If you have asthma or breathing problems, be sure to bring appropriate medications. Haridwar, Amritsar, and Pushkar have cleaner air, Agra is in between.
Some Indian travelers suffer nothing worse than an upset stomach, whereas others get seriously ill. Some of this is luck, but a lot of it is not. The most important factor in staying healthy is being mindful of what you eat and drink, because the biggest potential health hazards are the things that go down your throat.
They are also the things
over which you have the greatest control.
For up-to-date medical advice, check
Indian Travel Page
at the Center for Disease Control (both links
are active, the latter is the CDC's main page). Aside from recommending various
immunizations (Hepatitis A, typhoid, polio, tetanus, and antimalarial
medication), the Travel Page also talks about simple preventative measures (as
above). If you want complete peace of mind, get them all, but you still have
to watch what you eat and drink .
The immunizations I consider most vital are tetanus, typhoid, and Hepatitis A. I had a "mild" case of Hep A in 1990, and was sick for several months (for a month of that, I was VERY sick). Hepatitis A is spread through contact with an infected person, usually through food. The "good" news is that rest, food, and no alcohol can bring a complete recovery. Still, trust me when I say that you do NOT want to get this.
Typhoid is also spread through contaminated food or water (which human "carriers" can infect even without having symptoms themselves, as with the notorious "Typhoid Mary"). It responds to antibiotics, but is still a nasty disease. A tetanus booster is cheap insurance, since Indian travel brings the normal quotient of cuts and scratches, which if untended can get infected at lightning speed).
You can get a tetanus booster (and I think the Hep A as well) at Kenosha County Public Health--very cheap. Other possible places are the the Aurora Health Center on Hwy 50 (which used to have a Travel Clinic) or the International Travel Clinic at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital (9200 West Wisconsin Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53226-3596 Tel. 414-259-4949 Fax: 414-259-0052).
It's not that the other diseases are less serious, but I do consider them less likely, given other precautions. I HAVE seen a few mosquitoes in Agra every January that I have been there, so there is some risk here. Note: The most widely prescribed antimalarial drug is Mefloquine (brand name Larium), which has occasionally been associated with bizarre side effects, including unusually vivid dreams, paranoia, and psychosis. Click here for anecdotal stories about Larium nightmares from India scholars.
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Last modified 11 April 2007