Southern Asia is a region where more diseases are rife than in Europe. The situation is comparable to Europe before the Second World War. All dangerous diseases that are common in India or Nepal (to a lesser degree in Sri Lanka and the Maldives) almost exclusively affect the poor. Besides, for those that can afford it, with timely treatment they can almost always be checked. If you pay sufficient attention to hygiene use insect repellents and look after your skin, you will stay healthy, apart, perhaps, from some harmless intestinal problems.
Animals: Don’t stroke animals. Rabies and scabies occur widely in Sri Lanka. Should you be bitten, call on a doctor immediately. In case of a bite by a monkey or a dog, you should seek medical care then be flown home right away. Rabies that is not been treated at an early stage is deadly without exception. Bites by snakes and scorpions are rare and as a rule are not deadly. However, do not walk in high grass with open shoes. Keep your travel bags closed. Do not put on your shoes in the morning before you have checked that they are uninhabited.
Food and hygiene: Intestinal problems are much more common in India and Nepal (and to a lesser degree in Sri Lanka and the Maldives) than in Western Europe and food can be a major source of contamination. Visitors to this country are advised to eat meat and chicken only in reputed restaurants and otherwise stick to vegetarian food. Eat in good restaurants or, if you do go to cheap eating places, look for the busiest ones. Here, the turn-around of the food is highest, and hence the freshness. Fried vegetarian snacks can hardly go wrong, although the quality of the frying oil can be reduced after frequent use and sit heavy on the stomach. In expensive restaurants, you should be able to trust all of the food, including meat, ice creams and salads, but in case of doubt, put it aside. It is best not to eat salads in simple establishments; the same applies to fruit salads and fruit juices. If you peel the fruit yourself, it is safe. Wash your hands often and check that cutlery and plates are washed properly. Keep your fingernails short.
Sun and heat: Sunburn is common and can be prevented very easily. In the bright tropical sun, risk of sunstroke or sunburn is high. To prevent this, try not to expose the more delicate parts of your body to direct sunshine, especially during the hottest hours of the day. Wear a hat or cap or an umbrella and a pair of sunglasses when walking in the sun, and use a good sun tan lotion when sunbathing. Buy these articles prior to the journey. The key to good skin care is to always treat any little wound with a disinfectant like iodine.
Insects: Mosquitoes are most active just after sundown or just before sunrise. Covering up the skin with clothing helps, and insect repellents like DEET. You can request mosquito coils from your hotel desk or the restaurant where you eat. These green spirals can be burnt underneath your table or chair, deterring the mosquitoes. Electric coils are better suited to closed spaces. You could also consider bringing a mosquito net.
Prickly heat: Prickly heat is an inflammation of the pores that is a consequence of excessive sweating. It is common and innocuous, but unpleasant. The skin becomes red and irritated. Places where skin touches skin are extra susceptible, such as armpits and thighs. The symptoms will become less if you shower several times a day (cold, no soap), and dry off well. Applying talcum powder to the sore points may help, too. In moist heat, sleep in a cotton shirt, rather than under a sheet. If you suffer badly, it is best to take a room with air-conditioning for a few nights.
Diarrhoea: The most common complaints are intestinal disorders, in particular diarrhoea. Diarrhoea is a natural defence mechanism of the intestines to quickly dispose of anything damaging or irritating in the digestive tract. In most cases it completely innocuous and caused by a sudden change in diet, the heat or harmless bacteria, against which your body will quickly gain resistance. The main risk is dehydration. Dehydration occurs when the body continues to emit moisture and salts, while the intestines no longer absorb them. Symptoms are a feeling of listlessness, a dry mouth and lips and low urine production. Test for advanced dehydration by taking some skin on the top of your hand between your thumb and index finger, and release it. If the skin does not smooth itself out straight away, you are dehydrated. In elderly people, this test does not work so well. Serious dehydration often leads to a confused state of mind. Drinking lots of water, soft drinks and soup can prevent dehydration. In case of dehydration, it is best to drink water mixed with an ORS solution. This powder, which is available from chemists in sachets, both in India and at home, contains all minerals that the body loses as a result of diarrhoea. Sugar has been added to improve the uptake of salts and water. If the diarrhoea comes with high fever, vomiting, blood in the faeces or retching, call on a doctor immediately. It is possible that you have dysentery, which is caused by bacteria that may require medicine to fight it. There are excellent medicines to stop diarrhoea, but they do not remove the cause. Medicines containing loperamide, such as Diacura and Immodium, halt bowel activity. They are useful when you have to travel.
Doctors, dispensaries and medicines: Doctors and dispensary staff are generally well educated and trustworthy. The medical infrastructure (clinics) is of rather poor quality. All medicines can be purchased over the counter, without prescription. When buying medicine, note the date of packing. A small travel first-aid kit could contain the following items: plasters, bandages, cotton wool, a small pair of scissors, a thermometer, iodine, pain-killers, malaria tablets, ORS sachets, Immodium or Diacure, insect repellent such as DEET and itch-alleviating ointment or stick.
Vaccinations: There are no obligatory vaccinations for Sri Lanka, unless you have visited a region with yellow fever or cholera less than a fortnight before you arrive. To be sure of the best protection, always contact your GP or health authority in charge of vaccinations in the UK at least four weeks before you travel to find out if and what measures need to be taken. Usually, vaccinations again DTP are administered, as well as hepatitis-A, typhoid and malaria pills. The latter are to be taken during the trip and for one month after your return. Some people get bitten significantly less by mosquitoes if they start taking vitamin B complex pills two weeks before their journey, but unfortunately this does not work for everybody.
Some more advice for a pleasant stay: Take time to allow your body and mind to adjust to the new time zone and location. Avoid stress; do not draw up a busy schedule right away. In any case, take it easy the first day. It is a good idea to get up early; in hot countries the morning temperature is often the most pleasant. Besides, the people here are used to getting up early. If you adjust to the local rhythm, you will be well rested, and have enough energy to make the most of your time.