Kokoda hiker haz­ard

Over-hy­dra­tion dan­ger of­ten over­looked

Townsville Bulletin - - National Snapshot -

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.

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