Kokoda hiker hazard
Over-hydration danger often overlooked
MEDIA Reports of deaths on the Kokoda Track often list dehydration as a suspected cause, but doctors have warned this could ‘‘ perpetuate a dangerous culture’’ when the exact opposite could be to blame.
Drinking too much water can lead to exercise -associated hyponatraemia ( EAH) and hikers on the famous track were just as likely – if not more so – to suffer this potentially fatal condition, according to Melbourne-based Dr Eric Seal.
It was common for Kokoda’s trekkers to start every day carrying more than four litres of water, he
It is of grave concern that, in 2009, a second fatality occurred shortly after media speculation that dehydration was the cause of the first
– Dr Eric Seal
said, creating an ‘‘ environment of excess water’’ as they undertook the demanding hike in tropical heat.
‘‘ Well meaning guides and colleagues’’ could also enc ourage over-hydration while the early symptoms of EAH looked like heat exhaustion, and so could prompt even more fluid intake.
‘‘ The unexplained deaths in 2009 of four previously well hikers on the Kokoda Track in similar conditions provide urgency to the need to raise awareness of the association between over-hydration and EAH,’’ Dr Seal and colleagues said in a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
‘‘ Identified risk factors for EAH include ... high availability of drinking fluids, more than four hours’ exercise duration and hot environmental conditions.’’
Among those to die on the track in 2009 was Townsville father of four Paul Bradfield, 38.
The paper detailed the case of a 48-year-old woman who set out to walk the track in August 2008.
She had a headache on the second day of the hike and, suspecting dehydration, drank around seven litres of water over the day.
Her headache got worse and was followed by seizures and vomiting until she lapsed into a coma, which doctors on the hike provisionally diagnosed as EAH.
‘‘Fortuitously, an American naval hospital ship anchored outside Port Moresby retrieved her via helicopter the f ollowing afternoon ( and) the patient made a good recovery,’’ Dr Seal said.
Other hikers were not so lucky and he said the risk of EAH was often overlooked in media reports during a more recent spate of deaths on the Kokoda track. ‘‘ A prominent tour operator’s media assertion that ‘ dehydration‘ in ‘ the death zone‘ caused the recent deaths among young healthy Kokoda Track hikers may perpetuate a dangerous culture of over-hydration,’’ Dr Seal said.