More Health Issues
Before you commit yourself, talk to your doctor (general practitioner or physician), taking the altitude profiles with you. Unless your medical history includes serious risk factors, your doctor will probably be enthusiastic about the healthy side-effects of sound preparation. Take this chance to check the latest information on which vaccinations against diseases are required and recommended for Peru, and what is the timetable. Ensure that you store your vaccination records safely. Take advice about anti-malarial drugs and insect repellents and follow it carefully. Malaria is a life-threatening disease which is easy to prevent but difficult to treat. Those who are spending time at lower altitudes in Peru will certainly need protection.
Some people, especially on longer and more remote tours, wish to take a broad-spectrum antibiotic: if this applies to you, discuss it with your doctor. Your feet are about to become the most important part of your body, so consider seeing a chiropodist and carry blister prevention and treatment. If you are a blood donor, make your last donation at least eight to ten weeks before you leave. Remember to visit your dentist well before departure.
Many tourists experience digestive upsets in Peru, mainly because their systems cannot cope with food and water that is contaminated by dirty water, dirty hands or flies. Some simple precautions can reduce the chances of diarrhoea, which is both uncomfortable and dehydrating. The standard advice for food is "cook it, peel it, wash it, or forget it": this is sound, but not sufficient. Beware of dishes such as lasagne and quiche that have been cooked earlier in the day and then reheated; they are prone to contamination between being cooked and served.
Beware also of blended fruit and yoghurt drinks, undercooked meat, ice-cream products and ice, since freezing doesn’t kill micro-organisms. Food that is thoroughly cooked and served immediately should be safe. Keeping yourself clean while camping isn’t always easy, so take a good supply of wet wipes, preferably medicated, and be scrupulous about cleaning your hands before touching food or eating implements.
Drinking water must be boiled or purified chemically. At any altitude, boiling water even briefly makes it safe to drink. Filtration alone gives no protection against viruses, which can pass easily through the finest filter you can buy: they protect only against bacteria, lodine drops (or tablets) are better than chlorine because they protect you against giardia. However, iodine is not suitable for pregnant women or those with thyroid conditions, nor for anybody to use long term. For trips of up to a month it is the preferred option. Anything destined for your mouth (toothbrush or food) needs to be washed in water that has been purified or boiled.
In case you are unlucky, despite these precautions, consider what anti-diarrhoea medicine to take. Bowel paralysers such as Imodium relieve the symptoms and will help to sustain your hike. Rehydration salts such as Dioralyte can help you to restore your fluid balance faster. Most bacterial and viral diarrhoea clears up within a few days, so relieve the symptoms and be sure to drink plenty of fluids. If problems persist, seek medical advice in Cusco.
Peruvian plumbing cannot normally cope with toilet paper so don’t try to flush it away, even in good hotels. If this strikes you as unhygienic, consider the effects of a blocked toilet, and use the bin provided instead. Responsible tour operators provide toilet tents at each camp for hikers’ use, and dig deep holes inside them, which are filled in later. If there is a bin bag for toilet paper use it, or else put the paper in the hole for burying along with the waste.
Finally, remember that the sun’s rays are far stronger at altitude, because the thinner air filters out less of the harmful radiation. Since the equatorial sun is already much stronger than most tourists are used to, the risk of sunburn is doubly severe. Take a wide-brimmed hat and cream with a high Sun Protection Factor (at least SPF 25) for your face and lips. Use top-quality sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Planning your trip to the Inca Trail is one of the essential steps to enjoy an unforgettable experience.