Hygiene on the Trail

From time to time dysentery exposes itself as common ailment among Larapinta Trail walkers.  A couple of years ago dysentery was particularly rife at the height of the walking season to the point where many walkers could not continue their walk and were quite ill.  Many blamed the water in the tanks.  The water in the tanks should be treated or filtered as a matter of routine there’s no doubt about that, and some can be little lax in this area, but there was another more likely & more unsavoury explanation  – the combination of flies and human faecal matter.

It works like this; you go do your toileting in the bush some time during the day, as you sometimes must do, maybe it was at a high camp on Brinkleys Bluff.  It was really hard to bury because it was rocky and there is little soil, you did your best, so did many others before you.  But, their best wasn’t good enough; a quick scout around the camp area on Brinkleys Bluff during the height of the walking season will attest to the fact that many before you have been beaten by the challenge of burying their toileting in the rocky terrain.  Now the flies which are present in excessively high numbers at times have found a place to breed.

It has been proven that flies can carry E.coli on their body and leg hairs, now they’re crawling in the corners of your mouth, in your eyes and on your lunch……..

This is a problem that is accentuated on the Larapinta Trail possibly for the following reasons; difficulty in effectively burying faecal matter and toilet paper due to lack of soil, prevalence of flies in high numbers on occasion, lack of rain and low night time temperatures which slows breakdown of the faeces, lack of dung beetles or other biota which would speed the decomposition process.

Coupled with this is the difficulty in maintaining good hand hygiene where water is a precious resource that you have carried in, so after the deed your hands don’t get the scrub required, or hand sanitizer is used, but sparingly.

So what do you do?  Some simple things;

  • The single most important thing you can do is bury any toileting you do properly. Try & get away from the rocky areas and go where there is some capacity to actually dig a hole, definitely go a couple of hundred meters at least away from the trail and away from places people camp
  • Best if you can wait and use the toilet facilities at a camp if it’s possible
  • If the flies are bad use a fly head net
  • Shoo flies away from food
  • Wash your hands properly with wilderness wash or similar when you have access to water
  • Take hand sanitiser and use it when water isn’t available

Dysentery can and has completely ruined peoples Larapinta walk, but some simple precautions should mean you can have a clean run and remain in full health.

And don’t forget to treat your water too, it’s probably fine, but maybe it’s not.

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