Featured, Mountain Medicine, UIAA

Water-borne diseases are amongst the most common and important health issues affecting mountain visitors. Although contaminated food may be a more important risk factor for traveller’s diarrhea than water, the availability of safe water and knowledge of how to obtain it is a must for climbers worldwide to balance (high altitude) dehydration, to improve performance, and to minimise risks (e.g. frostbite, altitude diseases). In most cases the responsibility for obtaining and purifying water will be the mountain goer’s responsibility, because safe community based water resources are not always available.

The UIAA Medical Commission (MedCom) first published a medical advice paper related to water disinfection in the mountains in 2012.

Update: April 2021, the paper has now been updated in English with respective translations to be published in due course.

However, not only has the UIAA MedCom revised its advice paper, together with international partners, it has also produced a dedicated video on water safety.

“The idea to make a video about one of the most important topics on expeditions or mountaineering, namely the safe and environmentally friendly water treatment, has been in my head for a long time,” explains UIAA MedCom President Urs Hefti. “For almost twenty years I have been training doctors in wilderness and expedition medicine, and I am always amazed how little known the problem of safe drinking water is, especially among mountaineers and doctors from the so-called ‘first world’.”

The UIAA MedCom advice papers are aimed not only at medical professionals but lay people and both experienced and novice mountain goers. The idea to offer advice as video content will make important messages more accessible for different audiences and ultimately help prevent injuries and illnesses.

“Medical knowledge is not reinvented every year,” continues Dr Hefti. “But we strive to provide up to date information on important topics. In particular, it was not so clear until now whether the Steripen, for example, which needs ultraviolet light for water treatment, really works, because industry independent studies were missing. It was also unclear how long water had to be boiled to suppress Hepatitis A viruses.”

Help support and partner the creation of more videos

The UIAA Medical Commission has published over 20 advice papers covering topics such as women going to the mountains, eye issues, travelling with children and altitude sickness. The UIAA Medical Commission would like to offer the climbing community more video content related to medical advice in the mountains and is seeking funding to support future projects. Should you wish to partner the production of any videos or make a donation please visit the dedicated Donate page or contact Carol Kahoun at the UIAA Office,

The UIAA wishes to thank all of the partners who supported the production of the video dedicated to drinking safe water, including its full member associations in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

  • Swiss Alpine Club SAC
  • German Alpine Club DAV
  • Royal Dutch Climbing and Mountaineering Club NKBV
  • Swiss Society of Mountain Medicine SGGM
  • Swiss Sport Clinic
  • British Mountain Medicine Society BMMS

For further information about the UIAA Medical Commission click here.
Water Disinfection in the Mountains advice paper, April 2021 click here.