The Journalists' Guide to Surviving Sochi | The Survival Doctorby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Are you a journalist covering the Sochi Olympics, or, as Stacy St. Clair, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, puts it, “the dystopian-like Games where a simple shower poses a threat to your face [from contaminated water], fire alarms ring constantly and several hotels remain unfinished”?

I’ve never read so many complaints. They’re all over Twitter. Apparently, your hotel accommodations are … less than desirable. Bad water, stray dogs in rooms, defective doorknobs.

As a doctor, I think of the health risks some of these problems could pose. And then I wonder how reliable local medical care is. Even if it’s excellent, can you communicate with the doctors? How crowded will the waiting rooms be?

The Journalists' Guide to Surviving SochiSo I’m here to make an official offer of help: If any journalist or other Sochi Olympics visitor has medical questions, please ask them here. Anything. Of course, as always, I can only give general information and am not able to diagnose you, but I think you’ll find the general info will help a lot. (Also keep in mind that my blog is about what to do when you can’t get professional medical help. I always recommend seeking reliable help first.)

So far, here are the top concerns I’ve seen and my tips for solutions. I may update this post as more information comes out.

Bad Water
Signs of Dehydration

Remember, you need to stay hydrated. Even with the water concerns, make sure you drink at least a couple of quarts of noncaffeinated liquids per day. Signs of dehydration include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, weakness, and urine getting yellower. If you get up into the ski areas, dehydration will affect you more.

Whether it’s yellow or not, I wouldn’t drink any water that’s not bottled, and I wouldn’t drink bottled water from a brand I don’t recognize.

Exceptions: You could boil the water for a minute to remove bacteria and viruses (not chemicals). You could also buy a water filter from Berkey, Sawyer, or LifeStraw. Click here for other disinfection methods.

Remember that fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as the ice, may be contaminated also.

If you dare take a shower, keep the water away from your mouth, nose, and eyes. Bacteria and viruses can enter the body through the mouth and nose and can cause infection in the eyes.

You’ll need to keep your hands clean, so see if you can find any waterless soap (at least 60 percent alcohol). If nothing else, rinse your hands with rubbing alcohol followed by bottled water.

Wound Infection

Since hygiene is not ideal, take care of any cuts, scratches, or puncture wounds right away to avoid infection.

  • There is a good use for that gin if you have no other options: cleaning a wound—though painfully.

    There is a good use for that gin if you have no other options: cleaning a wound—though painfully.

    Clean the wound thoroughly with drinkable water (or, if that’s not available, peroxide or alcohol—rubbing or drinking—though the alcohol will hurt).

  • Apply antibacterial ointment if available. (Honey is also a great antibacterial for the skin, not to be used on babies).
  • Cover with a bandage.
Diarrhea and Vomiting

Your best bet to avoid food poisoning is make sure the food delivered to you is steaming hot, or just eat something prepackaged right out of the bag.

If you do get food poisoning, antibiotics probably won’t help. Click on these articles for other remedies:


Uneven, unlit stairs and wet floors from a lack of shower curtains puts you at risk for a fall.

For the wet floors, wear shoes any time you’re not in the bath. Spread out rugs, etc.—anything for traction as long as it doesn’t slide. If you fall, I have all sorts of posts on that. Start with this RICE one. Then explore the links below, depending on where you’re hurt:

And, in case you see someone else have a particularly bad fall, here are two posts you may want to glance over:

Stray Dogs

There’s been lots of coverage about the many stray dogs in the area. No matter how much you feel sorry for them, and how gentle they look, stay away. A bite means a trip to the doctor, and rabies is a rare possibility.


Your turn. What questions do you have?


Hat tip to these articles about the hotel tweets: Poynter, Deadspin, The Washington Post, The Denver Post.


Update: I’m now also tweeting tips with “#SochiTip.” Follow me here.