Bikepacking health tips for 2021: diseases, risk areas, prevention

Bikepacking in 2021: essential safety tips

Bikepacking health advice

While the World Health Organization has recommended cycling for both travel and exercise, it is important that you check guidelines from local authorities before you travel to ensure you will comply with any COVID-19 restrictions that may be in force.

What is bikepacking?

Long distance bicycle tourism has become increasingly popular over recent years, as a healthier more environmentally conscious alternative to other forms of travel. “Bikepacking” usually refers to long distance bicycle travel over a period of days or weeks, and either camping overnight in between or staying locally along the route.

COVID-19 and bikepacking

Outdoor activities and methods of travel which minimise contact with other people have become increasingly popular throughout 2020. When taking the right precautions, bikepacking can be a safe way to travel, both nationally and abroad.

If you intend to camp and cycle, be aware of local restrictions. Campsites in the UK have been open since July 4th, and this autumn and winter the national tourism agency is encouraging more people to take domestic holidays.

The current regulations mean that you are allowed to camp and cycle, so long as there are no local restrictions in the area where you live, or the area you intend to travel to. If you live in an area with “very high” tier restrictions, you should avoid all non-essential travel.

Always check the official guidance on local COVID alert levels, as well as the current restrictions in your local area.

If you are travelling abroad, check the Foreign Office advice on your destination, as well as the local restrictions in place at your destination. Be aware that you may have to quarantine on your return.

Bikepacking COVID-19 travel advice

  • always check local restrictions before you travel

  • do not travel if you feel unwell

  • check what facilities are open at any sites you want to stay at—some places are only allowing caravans which are fully equipped with their own facilities

  • if you camp, make sure there is at least two metres between your tent and others

Why is bikepacking health precaution important?

When undertaking journeys that require high levels of physical exertion it is important to make sure that you plan accordingly. Many preventable illnesses can disrupt your travels or cause lasting health issues, however, this can be avoided with the correct measures.

This article includes an outline of the basic health measures that you may want to take into consideration when bikepacking, such as:

  • access to clean water

  • contact with wild/stray animals

  • mosquitoes

  • ticks

It's important to make sure you take the right precautions and pack the right equipment before your bikepacking trip

Water and food health while bikepacking

Depending on your travel route, access to clean water may be limited. It is wise to thoroughly research your destination and route before you travel, and check whether the tap water is drinkable, and whether you will have regular access to clean water throughout the trip.

It is also important to take some method of water sterilisation with you if you are not sure that you will have access to clean water.

You can find an explanation of different methods on the NHS website Fit for Travel.

Many diseases which can be contracted through dirty water can also contaminate food. Some diseases that can be contracted through dirty water can include diphtheria, polio, hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera.

Water borne diseases according to region:

Europe: Most European countries have safe drinkable tap water, however you should always check this before your journey. The region generally has a lower risk of water-borne illnesses. Eastern Europe can sometimes be a risk area for diphtheria.

South America: Travellers to parts of South America can be susceptible to infection with hepatitis A, typhoid, and cholera.

North America: Diphtheria, hepatitis A, typhoid, and cholera are present in some central American and Caribbean countries.

Asia: Diphtheria, hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera, polio

Oceania: Diphtheria

Africa: Diphtheria, hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera, polio

Having access to clean water while backpacking is essential

Animals

Getting bitten by stray dogs and other animals can be a risk to many cyclists travelling long distances, as they tend to spend long periods of time outdoors in rural areas. Those bikepacking in countries which have large numbers of stray dogs and other domestic animals can also be at a higher risk of contracting diseases from animals, such as rabies.

Rabies

Rabies is a rare but very serious viral infection of the brain and spinal cord. The vast majority of rabies cases are contracted from dogs (99%) so it is advisable that you do not approach or touch stray dogs where the disease is prevalent.

Rabies is present in most countries around the world, including the UK. The risk of contracting rabies in many countries, particularly in Europe, remains low. Risk regions include Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Rabies outbreaks can happen anywhere, meaning that it is important that you check your destination before you travel.

Rabies prevention

Although there is no cure for rabies, there is effective treatment available if you seek medical attention within a few hours of becoming infected.

If you are bitten, scratched, or licked by an animal in a rabies risk area, it is important to:

  • clean the wound immediately with running water and soap for several minutes, then disinfect it with an alcohol- or iodine-based disinfectant

  • apply a simple dressing if possible

  • seek medical attention as soon as possible

If you are planning to do high-risk activities such as cycle or camp in a rabies risk area it is recommended that you get the rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine provides lifelong protection against rabies.

Find out more about the rabies vaccine.

It's best to keep your distance from any animals you might encounter while cycling

Tetanus

Tetanus is a serious but rare bacterial infection widely prevalent around the world. The tetanus bacteria can survive for long periods outside of the body, and can commonly be found in the soil and manure of animals such as horses and cows. Tetanus is contracted in humans when the bacteria enters a wound by either soil or dirt. People are usually infected with tetanus through:

  • Cuts and scrapes

  • Tears or splits in the skin

  • Burns

  • Animal bites

  • Body piercings, tattoos, injections

  • Eye injuries

  • Contaminated drugs

The best method of prevention against tetanus is vaccination. Protection from the tetanus vaccine usually lasts for 10 years.

Bikepacking or cycling travel is a high risk activity for tetanus, as they are more likely to suffer from injuries that increase the likelihood of infection, such as:

  • Deep puncture wounds

  • Wounds that have come into contact with soil or manure

  • Wounds with dirt or gravel inside

  • Bone fractures where the skin is broken

  • Wounds or burns in patients who have blood infections

Such injuries can easily be sustained in a bicycle accident in a rural area.

Find out more about the tetanus vaccine.

Mosquitoes

Depending on which time of year you are travelling and what area you are travelling to, mosquitoes can be a concern.

Find out more about what you can do to prevent insect bites.

Certain regions of Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean have a high risk of yellow fever, and you may require a certificate of vaccination to enter some countries.

Mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent in many regions of the world, including South America, parts of Asia and Africa

Ticks

Outdoor travellers are at an increased risk of tick bites, which can be found on mountainsides, in grassland, on forest fringes, on forest glades, on riverside meadows and marshland, as well as forest plantations.

Ticks are small creatures that feed off the blood of mammals. They are dangerous because they can carry infections, which you can catch if they bite you. The faster you remove a tick, the more likely it is that you can avoid infection.

Ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. Both diseases are common across Europe, with Lyme disease particularly prevalent in central European countries such as Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Tick-borne encephalitis risk regions include central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Baltic and Nordic regions.

There are many actions you can take to prevent getting bitten by ticks.

Tick-borne illnesses can be a risk for outdoor activities in rural areas

Vaccination plan

Depending on your bicycle travel plans and route, it can be advisable to get vaccinated against diseases which are more common among outdoor travellers.

If you already know which vaccines you need for your travels, you can book a vaccination appointment online. It is advisable that you book your appointment at least 6 to 8 weeks before your date of travel.

If you are unsure as to which vaccinations you should get, book a free telephone consultation to speak to one of our Practio prescribers. They can give you a personal recommendation to suit your health and travel plans.

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