Medical Emergencies and How To Find a Doctor
Tourists come to Nepal for some of the most exciting-- and potentially dangerous-- adventures in the world. Mountain climbing, trekking, whitewater rafting and many other outdoor activities for which Nepal is famous can cause altitude sickness or present health and safety problems that may be hard to treat in remote locations. More commonly, gastrointestinal ailments such as diarrhea affect tourists and residents alike. More than one U.S. visitor to Nepal has had to visit a clinic or hospital, or has been medically evacuated, during his or her vacation.
Embassy assistance for U.S. citizens
In addition to providing general information, the U.S. Embassy assists Americans with medical evacuations and transfering funds from the United States. Consular officers can help ill or injured Americans make logistical arrangements for their medical care in Nepal, and can contact friends or family on their behalf. In some emergency cases, the Embassy can help secure a government loan for medical treatment.
Medical care in Nepal
Medical care in Nepal is limited and is often not up to Western standards. Usual ailments and some surgeries can be addressed by clinics in Kathmandu. Serious illness or injury may require evacuation to the nearest adequate medical facility (Singapore, Bangkok or New Delhi) or back to the United States. Illnesses and injuries suffered while trekking often require a helicopter rescue. The cost for a helicopter rescue from remote areas to Kathmandu is typically $3,000 to $10,000. Medical evacuation to the United States may cost in excess of $50,000. The Embassy strongly recommend Americans purchase emergency evacuation insurance before any extended trek or adventure activity in Nepal's remote areas.
Some clinics and hospitals in Kathmandu accept credit card payment, but others accept only cash. Travelers should be prepared to pay their bills in full before treatment or before discharge from an in-patient facility. The Embassy strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling to Nepal to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and will cover emergency expenses.
For a list of medical professionals in Nepal with experience treating U.S. citizens.
Taking care of yourself in Nepal
Nepal's geography and sanitation concerns make tourists and residents alike susceptible to many ailments. Exercising some simple precautions can help make your trip safe and enjoyable.
Altitude sickness in the Himalayas can affect even the most seasoned climbers and trekkers. In its most severe forms, it is a life-threatening illness and must be treated immediately by descending to a lower altitude. Flying to Lukla or Lhasa (in Tibet) brings travelers to high altitudes with no time for their bodies to adjust. Physical training or fitness has no impact on altitude sickness susceptibility.
Altitude sickness can take three forms: acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Symptoms of AMS include headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and occasionally vomiting. Symptoms may lessen if the affected traveler remains at the same altitude to acclimatize. HACE and HAPE are more severe conditions, marked by lethargy, confusion and/or shortness of breath. Anyone displaying these symptoms should immediately descend to a lower altitude and seek medical assistance.
Diahhrea and other gastro-intestinal ailments are probably the most common problems for travelers to Nepal, especially during the summer monsoon months. Diahhrea is rarely life-threatening. However, if symptoms persist, or if you have special health concerns, you should contact a medical professional. Following the below tips should help prevent gastro-intestinal problems:
- Avoid buying food or beverages from street vendors or other unhygienic establishments.
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
- Avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables, unless you have peeled them yourself.
- Drink bottled carbonated beverages or water that you are sure has been boiled or treated with iodine/chlorine. Be aware that water bottles in remote locations are sometimes refilled with tap or stream water. Make sure the seal on the bottle is intact before you open it.
For more information on health concerns and vaccination recommendations in Nepal, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on traveling to Nepal.