With a population of over 1 billion people, India alone houses one-sixth of the entire population of the world. It is a vast country with thousands of different languages, cultures...and of course foods. One of the main reasons tourists travel to India is to enjoy its amazing cuisine. But while the food is delicious, it comes with risks. The most well-known one is the dreaded “Delhi belly”.
Frequent visitors to India are likely familiar with the term, but those that haven’t experienced it yet will likely be lost when they hear it. Delhi belly refers to the symptoms that arise when you experience food poisoning in India, or have an otherwise negative reaction to the local microbiology. And make no mistake: this can happen a lot quicker than you think. The most obvious way to get Delhi belly is by consuming poorly-prepared food. However, even a well-prepared meal can cause a negative reaction, as Western tourists especially, are not accustomed to the often extreme amounts of spices present in Indian food. Simply shaking hands with someone with poor hygiene could lead to you accidentally ingesting harmful microbes during your next meal.
The first few moments can be very frightening if this is your first time experiencing it. The basics of Delhi belly, and indeed most types of food poisoning in general, is that your body will try to expel whatever you ingested that your body didn’t agree with. And it will do so with an extreme sense of urgency. This means stomach cramps, extended bouts of diarrhea and vomiting, and likely a fever to round it all up. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?
The first thing you should do is contact a doctor and ask for antibiotics. While in many European countries doctors are somewhat hesitant to prescribe antibiotics, in India it is better to be safe than sorry. The most common antibiotic against diarrhea is Ciprofloxacine. You can also be prescribed Azithromycin, Cotrimoxazole or Metronidazole, depending on what exactly caused the ailment. Make sure to drink a lot of water. The massive amounts of fluids leaving your body can quickly lead to dehydration.
There are a few things you can do to avoid getting the dreaded belly. Some argue that it is inevitable when travelling to India, but it should be possible to have a belly-free trip if you pay close attention to what you do.
The tap water in India is very unhygienic. Even a single glass can be enough to send you running to the nearest toilet. Make sure to always drink from sealed bottles. Check whether they are in fact sealed. Criminals like to use empty bottles and fill them with tap water and seal them again, to give the impression that they are selling you bottled water. A water bottle with its original seal attached makes a very distinctive sound when you open it. You should also avoid meals that have been prepared with tap water, such as salads. You would do well to also avoid fruits in the market, as they are often sprayed with tap water to give them more of a shine.
One of the most common ways for bacterial infections to spread is through direct or indirect contact. You are likely already aware that washing your hands is generally a smart thing to do, especially when abroad, but have you considered that turning off the tap when you’re finished can infect you again? Always carry some hand sanitiser with you which you can use after each visit to the bathroom. This way you can be absolutely sure you will not be carrying any bacteria.
The excitement of a first visit to India can lead to people forgetting to use common sense. If after your first bite of a meal something tastes funny, trust your instincts and don’t continue eating. It may appear rude, but it’s better than getting food poisoning. Avoid “fresh” foods like fish, as you cannot be sure that they have been stored properly. Be wary of establishments that are popular with the locals; this likely means those places use very strong spices, and not all tourists are prepared for this.
Despite all this, India remains one of the most popular holiday destinations for a reason. The country offers a wide variety of cultures, natural landscapes and beautiful structures. While the current coronavirus crisis has put most travel plans on hold, once the borders open again, India is sure to be one of the prime destinations for tourists. Important to note: don’t forget to get your Indian visa. Unlike other visa types in Asia, the visa for India can be applied for online. You simply fill in the form, pay the fee and sit back and wait for the visa to arrive in your email. Print it out, and you’re ready to go!
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