Sri Lanka is less challenging from a health point of view than many other developing countries. For example, malaria risks are much lower than in any other tropical regions.
Nevertheless, there are some risks of infections transmitted by animal bites. And the risk of leech bites is quite high in the rainforests in the south-west off the island and also in the highlands , particularly in Knuckles Range. These are the parts of the island where Sri Lanka's most popular trekking areas are situated. Bites of leeches can be quite bloody in Sri Lanka and cause infections simply because of the wounds. Don`t worry too much after being bitten. Not every leech in Sri Lanka transmits deseases of wild animals possibly bitten by it earlier on, and normally leech bites are not too dangerous.
But you should be aware, that there are indeed plenty of leeches in those regions, and you will be bitten more than once, if you walk around unprotected. Leech bites are really difficult to avoid, especially after rainfall. Sri Lanka's leeches are quite capable of burrowing through thin socks or even trousers. In order to minimize health risks, you should be prepared and listen to the locals' advice:
Locals apply repellents on shoes, feet and legs. Soap and salt and tobacco leaves are the most common ones, the antiseptic but slightly poisonous Dettol and other chemical repellents like Siddhalepa, an Ayurvedic pain relief balm, are more effective and popular in Sri lanka, too. There is a so-called "Blue Soap" available at all drugstores and many more shops in Sri Lanka, for washing your feet and ankles before entering the forests.
But you should be aware, that this will only reduce the number of bites and is not at all prevent 100% of the leech bites. One reason for the remaining risk of bites is simply that transpiration and the wetness of the forest tend to wash away the repellent soon. It's better to wash the feet with blue soap and afterwards use a spray with repellents every few hours. Repellent sprays like Salonpas must be used at the ankles just above the shoes. In general, it's better to buy repellents in Sri Lanka than taking those of your home country, because local repellents are usually better attuned to local insects and other animals.
However, special so-called "leech socks" are definitely the most effective and most convenient way of avoiding leech bites while hiking in Sri Lanka`s forests. These leech socks are made of cotton and they are much thicker than normal socks. Furthermore, leeches cannot penetrate thick cotton as easily as equally thick synthetic materials. Additionally, some locals soak their thick cotton socks in water and mix it with chewed beetle leaves and then dry them in the sun before wearing the socks. Be aware: Leech socks are only effective, if they are long enough to cover at least two thirds and are pulled above your trousers! Look at the photo below to see, how your sock should be worn.
Team Sightseeinglanka can provide locally made cotton cloth socks as perfect protection against leech bitees. You should especially use them in Sinharaja Rain forest . The price of pair of socks is only around 550 or 600 Sri Lanka Rupees.
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