Once again a discussion has sparked over whether a health related question should be on or off topic:

How long until I develop immunity to stomach flu / travelers' disease?

As comments got lengthy, I decided to open this question. It has been brought up before, but always in conjunction with a specific question, so I think it is fair to do it once again. After all, it doesn't seem like the community has a common understanding of it yet.

Earlier discussions (not necessarily complete):
How do we handle health related topics?
Should we get a closing reason for questions that ask for medical advice?
Is my answer too specific medically?



Questions about health are in general just fine. Maintaining health with restricted access to medical facilities is a very important part of doing outdoor activities in remote areas. Therefore I think in general health related questions are on-topic, with the exception of some non-suited cases. Those are actually very similar to general reasons for something to be off-topic, it is just more pronounced, as abuse of medical advice is dangerous.

One example is too narrow questions: Anything asking for a diagnosis of a very specific, not common-place problem, potentially even tailored to the asker as a "patient", is obviously not a good suit and should be closed.

Also anything that is a mainly a technical medical question that does not have any application in a outdoorsy scenario isn't a good suite. Yet again, many things may not seem relevant from the view of a day-trip hiker, but for someone doing a month long trek in very remote areas, it is perfectly valid. Of course there may be a limit for something to be too technical (i.e. go talk to a physician), but even then I think closing is rarely the way to go. In such situation, we should put stringent requirements on the answers by requiring factual-based arguments (i.e. citations). I.e. vote the answer saying "My grandfather several times used this her herb to stop a major internal bleed and it totally worked" into oblivion. I don't see any reason to close a question asking about whether there is anything to do about it though (obviously this is a poorly fleshed out example, a real one would have to be better).

Linked question

The focus on immunity in the title is unfortunate, however the question gets apparent in the text: How to deal with stomach flu in the context of trekking in Nepal. The immunity part seems to point to a misconception about how developing a resistance to pathogenic agents works, which can absolutely be addressed by an informed layman (again, definitely including references). Still the main part that is actually practically useful to the OP and many other people is to answer this part:

How do other people deal with this kind of problem?

Which after reading the question body is a very clear question.

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    TGO has been really picky in the past in wording questions so they fit the site. If the question was "what are general precautions I should take to not get diarrhea in the wilderness?" then sure It is a question for TGO, beyond that I dont think so. And regarding obsolete: as I mentioned the use of drugs now is changed from even a few years ago. I deleted the comments I wrote before to turn them into an answer – Erik vanDoren Oct 20 '17 at 13:37
  • @ErikvanDoren I already deleted my earlier comment when yours went away, so this is a bit incoherent now - sorry. I agree the wording could and should be better, but my interpretation of that question was actually almost as you suggested, just that I would replace wilderness with trekking in Nepal (or high-altitude or whatever is the most relevant) and argue for it to be ok based on that. – imsodin Oct 20 '17 at 13:46
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    My fault for deleting the other comments. When you mentioned the general hygiene suggestion in the comments the user kind of discounted it, so I think its not what he is looking for, thats why I read the question more as medical advice for his particular situation. If the question would be edited to be just about cleanliness etc in the wilderness I think it would become a duplicate (I seem to remember that being asked in the past) – Erik vanDoren Oct 20 '17 at 13:59
  • This doesn't 100% answer your whole issue, so I'll comment on the question about immunity. I think we have to be careful about picking out pieces of questions just so they're on topic. I feel the same about potentially telling the community what we think OP meant. – Sue Oct 20 '17 at 16:35
  • Immunity was clearly the main focus of the question, not an unfortunate choice of words. OP even said so in a comment: "I was thinking you develop immunity when you get sick and the body produced anti bodys or something like that." – Sue Oct 20 '17 at 16:39
  • @Sue But that was a misconception of the OP, which could have been cleared up quickly without giving medical advice. Someone could have had a similar misconception about HACE ("I've never gotten it before at up to 20,000 feet, so I should be OK on my next trip, which is to 22,000 feet.) and that could have been shot down without giving medical advice. That being said, and granting that Tulluchgorum gave a good answer, there are points to be made verging on medical advice: (1) OP may be especially sensitive; (2) there are many strains of e-coli, of which some Asian strains are (continued) – ab2 Oct 21 '17 at 17:50
  • @Sue strongly antiobiotic resistant; and (3) the whole point about developing immunity which Erik vanDoren deleted. What this adds up to, IMO, is to answer what we can answer (@ Tullochgorum) and strongly advise the OP to see a specialist in travel medicine and maybe gastroenterology. – ab2 Oct 21 '17 at 17:53

Questions regarding health or medical issues occuring in the outdoors are on-topic in fact we already have lots of these types of questions.

For instance,

As you can see there are already many, many questions that fit the description. The tag alone has 52 questions.

However the question needs to be related to the Outdoors, for example,

How can I remove warts at home (off-topic)

How do you remove leeches from your eyeball? (On-topic)

As for the specific question that sparked this discussion, I would just like to point out two similar questions.

Is it possible to develop immunity against mosquitos?

How do you avoid Norovirus on the AT?


I don't see it, here we are talking about traveler's diarrhea plain and simple, be it in Nepal or in Delhi. The answer about the immunity is "it takes years of exposure to the tons of different strains of bacteria", nothing more than that and honestly, I don't see the usefulness of it when a 3 seconds google search brings up pages explaining it.

"What others do" is also something to be careful about, it shouldn't belong here, one cant answer that without knowing anything about the health of this person. There could be other health conditions to be accounted for. We are talking about something where drugs are involved, and often misused, and things can be tricky. Even saying to take an easy over the counter medication like Imodium is not really safe when we are talking about a bacterial infection or if there were other preexisting health problems. And all this leaving out viruses and parasites.

And besides everything, many health questions of this kind can become easily obsolete, even just about traveler diarrhea a travel clinic would now do things differently than 5 years ago.

The fact that the user asking the question seems to be particularly susceptible to traveler's diarrhea could be a bit of a red flag. Maybe health-related questions shouldn't be that specific either.

  • The following doesn't answer that specific question and is too common-place to be very insightful, it's just meant as an example why I don't think giving non-individual advice is pointless or dangerous. Someone with more experience may be able to extend that into less obvious advice: Drinking a lot, types of food to avoid, "cook it, peel it or leave it", probiotics (efficacy is debated, but never heard of it doing harm), ... – imsodin Oct 20 '17 at 13:43
  • @imsodin, it's probably me but I'm confused by this comment. It starts with "The following..." and also says "it's just meant as an example..." I can't seem to find anything following, or an example. Is it possible something was deleted, or this comment was supposed to go elsewhere? I see mention of deleted comments in your discussion with imsodin above. Is this one of those, or am I missing something? Thanks! – Sue Oct 20 '17 at 21:51
  • @Sue I edited it (can't do that anymore) and it turned out to be worse after the edit. The "following" is in the end after the ":", everything before that is more or less not very relevant rambling - sorry for that. – imsodin Oct 21 '17 at 9:06
  • Thanks for the response. I had a feeling it might be something like that. Sometimes I think it's too bad we can't edit comments after 5 minutes, but I can see where in certain cases it could cause a big mess! Anyway, no apology necessary! – Sue Oct 21 '17 at 16:06

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