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Yes, ‘Delhi Belly’ is possible, but the fear of it stops people from travelling to India, and it really shouldn’t!

These 5 simple tips (and one extra, very obvious one) will help you stay healthy, and teach you what to do if you do get sick while travelling in India. (By the way, I am a qualified nurse who has been living in India for over 3 years.)


The first step in health is always prevention.

Before you come to India, you should have all your vaccinations/immunizations sorted out. Most of what you need, you were given already as a child. There are a few extras like Hepatitis A, Typhoid (both contracted from eating raw fruits and veg, and from drinking the water) and Rabies, which you could consider but are not absolutely necessary. Hep A and Rabies come in sets so you need to prepare well ahead of time for this. Make sure you are up-to-date on your Tetanus booster and all other childhood vaccinations. Some animals do have rabies in India and dog bites can happen. If you plan to volunteer with animals, needless to say, it’s a must.

Another step in prevention is taking the right precautions when eating street food. Here are some tips. You can take preventative tablets for Malaria but there are no tablets for Dengue Fever. Wear mosquito repellent!


Know which type of hospital or clinic to visit in India

Private hospitals are more expensive, and for surgeries and serious issues they are the better choice. You can also visit small clinics for less serious things like stomach issues.

Note that some government hospitals will not want to treat foreigners, as in some states they are actually free for residents. Good hospitals in India are blessed with an over-supply of doctors, meaning that even government hospitals have newly trained doctors who are working their way up to private care.


Pharmacy in Udaipur, Rajasthan; photo courtesy flickr/travelwayoflife

In India you can skip the clinic and go straight to the chemist

You don’t actually need a prescription in India to get medication from a doctor, so it’s easier to get what you need, if you know what that is.

Acne cream, cream for toe fungus (yes, this happens in India’s monsoon!), an antibiotic that you ran out of or lost, or any drug you know you require without needing a doctor’s opinion as back-up­­—all are possible without a prescription. There are exceptions of course, such as pain and anxiety medications—you will need a prescription for those.


Birth control options in India are available (but not everywhere)

In Goa, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore you will find pharmacies that sell the birth control pill. However, many pharmacy staff will not know what you mean and will offer you the ‘abortion pill’ as they call it, or the ‘morning after pill’ as most others call it. This is not a substitute for birth control and should really only be taken once or twice in your life. The best advice is to take your own supply with you to India; I cannot count the number of girls who have found themselves in a pickle unable to find pills here. The brand most often found is Yaz. In Goa, there is no other option that I have ever come across.


Pharmacy in Ranikhet, India. Photo courtesy flickr/superamit

Don’t just take an antibiotic without knowing why

In my opinion, this is the biggest downfall in Indian healthcare—doctors over-prescribing antibiotics, or prescribing something much stronger than required, and inevitably causing your body to build up a tolerance of sorts to broad-spectrum antibiotics.

If you have serious stomach pains, cramps and diarrhoea for 2-3 days you should go to a hospital and do a stool test. Have a doctor take those results and find the right antibiotic for the bacteria that you have. If you go to a clinic without this, the doctor is just guessing and giving you a broad-spectrum antibiotic. It will most likely work but if you are here a long time it is not good for your health.

If you have an antibiotic prescription, or any prescription for that matter, and you go to a chemist to have it filled, they will substitute for another medication if they don’t have it in stock, and they usually won’t even bother to tell you. You are your own advocate here and should take notes on how often the doctor says to take your medicine, and for how long, in case the chemist gives you other directions. Typically, 2 pills a day for 3-5 days applies to most antibiotics for stomach issues. If a chemist mentions an extreme number of days then beware, they might be overselling.


There you have my best tips for what to do when you are sick in India. Remember: it’s always possible you will get sick but it doesn’t have to be the drama you may imagine.

Doctors see poorly foreigners every day, over and over, and will be happy to help you. But if they rush you in for scans and such just because you say you have diarrhoea, they might be trying to make extra cash. As ever, the single best tip has to be BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE. Then you can go ahead and do whatever the doctor suggests and not worry about the money.