It is common knowledge that as a traveller, you can pick up something that will give you a tummy upset. Usually these things are caused by unfamiliar bacteria in the water or on fruits or vegetables. Thankfully the problem usually runs its course in 2-3 days and though unpleasant, it is not a big problem for most people.
But, there are also a variety of “bugs” – bacteria, viruses, amoebas, worms, and other parasites that one can encounter, and the results can be more serious than an ordinary travellers bug. All of these things are far more likely in developing countries and/or tropical countries so if you tend to stray off the beaten path, it is good to be aware of precautions and treatments. And, sometimes even with precautions, something can sneak in so thankfully there are medications that can help if necessary.
Disclaimer – I am not a professional anything and I am not responsible for your health. I am only sharing some things I have learned along the way. Consult a health care professional if you have further questions or if you are sick.
- Hand washing is always advised. Our hands are on everything so if you can keep them from carrying something to your face and body, this is the first line of defense against this and all germs. The alcohol based gels, liquids, and wipes on the market are also very effective.
- Watch out for the water. If there is a concern that it might cause problems, drink bottled or boiled water. This includes ice cubes, water for brushing teeth, and any other water that will go in your mouth, and resist that smoothy from the street vendor (learned that one the hard way!)
- Choose fruits and vegetables that can be washed and peeled. If they can’t be peeled wash them carefully and disinfect. The advice I have read and been told is to wash with (drinkable) water and vinegar, lemon, or salt, and rinse. You can spray it on smooth things, or soak other produce. Vinegar seems to be the most widely recommended. If you want to be even more sure, you can wash with a bleach solution. It kills everything. You will want to rinse carefully afterwards though. Recently I also saw a recommendation for cleaning with hydrogen peroxide, then vinegar, then washing with water. There are also washing solutions that you can buy but everything I have read says they are no more effective than careful washing with one of the above methods.
- Wash hands, countertops, knives, cutting boards, and any other food prep utensils before and after preparing food.
- Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Avoid those middle temperatures that “bugs” like so they won’t multiply.
- Avoid antacids if you can. Your stomach acid can kill most of the “bugs” that may get past your precautions.
What if you get sick?
- Drink fluids! Diarrhea can quickly cause dehydration. Mineral waters or sodas are especially helpful because the sugars and salts are more effective than plain water. There may be commercially available rehydration drinks like Gatorade and other sports drinks where you are. You can also make your own with a liter of water, 6 teaspoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Rest and allow your body to heal itself. Minimizing other stressors on your mind and body will allow you to recover more quickly.
- Avoid anti-diarrhea medications of you can. Your body is trying to flush out the toxins.
- If you are very dehydrated, run a fever, have blood in the stools, don’t get better in a week, or have any other symptoms that worry you, find a doctor. There are antibiotics and medications that can help.
Of course children, the elderly, people with immune system problems, or other health concerns needs to be especially careful. It would be good to consult a doctor beforehand on how to manage any potential problems.
Do I have a personal reason for writing all this?
Umm.. yes. I know a number of people and I, myself have also been affected by the ordinary travelers tummy upset. As predicted, it tends to run its course in a few days with no lasting effects. For travelers in Panama, Bocas del Toro is notorious for this. Even with careful precautions, a couple of people in our party got sick the last time we went.
My trip to Nicaragua was a bit more of a problem though. I knew I had a problem a couple of days before we left, and I thought it would run its course like everything else. It didn’t though. Of course I didn’t take my own advice and seek treatment after a week. Two weeks went by, then three – tummy upset, little appetite, queasy, feeling run down and tired all the time, it was a real drag. I tried a few days of Panamanian remedies recommended to me and finally got fed up. I asked a friend for the name of her meds, went to the pharmacy for a consult, and got the recommended medication. I took it on Friday afternoon and on Sunday I woke up feeling like myself again.
I believe I had amoebas, or amoebiasis. My research said it is one of the more common causes of problems in Nicaragua, and my symptoms fit the description. I took Amoebriz and it seems to have done the trick. I am SO thankful that we have these medications available! The only good things about being sick is how wonderful you feel when you are better again, and I lost enough weight that my friends are noticing. From now on though I plan to be more vigilant about precautions, and I’d rather my weight with healthy eating and exercise.
OK, enough about sickness. The next post is also from Nicaragua, from my friend who is helping people affected by the disaster. If you helped and want to see how your money was spent and what effect it had, you need to read this.