We knocked on the wooden door, Tasfaye opened it, welcomed us into his home. The smell of home cooking and roasting coffee beans permeated the house…and then Delhi Belly set in. My insides gave way— like a scene from a bad movie I rushed to the bathroom and spent the rest of the evening there, ‘in disposed’ shall we say. I didn’t know so much could come out of me.
I was just 20, what did I know?
I certainly didn’t know I could avoid travelers diarrhea (TD) or treat it. I thought you just had to put up with it if you want to see the world. I was in Ethiopia at the time, so I assumed that intestinal maladies were part of ‘the experience’. I suffered that night, and for days afterwards. What bothers me most is that I missed a wonderful dinner with professional colleagues and several days of work too.
I have since learned that there are many things you can do to avoid ‘Montezuma’s revenge’, ‘Delhi Belly’, the ‘Azetec Two-step’ or whatever cute name you want to give it. And if you become ill while traveling, you can treat yourself immediately- lessening both the severity and duration of symptoms.
TD is simply awful. You feel terrible, can get dehydrated, and usually have to miss several days of planned activities while you slowly get better.
Poor food handling or contaminated water is always the source. In many destinations, especially resource poor countries, improper food handling is the main culprit.
Beware of the buffet.
You can be lured into a false sense of security if you judge a restaurant by its décor. That certainly happened to my trekking group in Peru last month. We had been meticulous about food and water until we were invited into a very nice restaurant in the Urubamba valley. It looked so fancy that some forgot first rule of traveling—beware of the lukewarm buffet. In no less than 36 hours we were paying the price: severe cramps, fever to 104, and explosive diarrhea. One member of our party even needed an IV to recover!
How can you prevent travelers diarrhea?
- Be conscientious about good hand washing. Wash before you eat and after you use the restroom. Soap and water is best, but if not available, hand sanitizer will work well.
- Eat food that is freshly cooked and served hot.
- Don’t eat food from street vendors.
- Drink only bottled beverages and skip ice, which is made with tap water.
- Avoid lettuce and other hard-to-clean leafy vegetables
- Wash fruits and vegetables and peel before eating them.
How do you treat travelers diarrhea?
Oral rehydration: The mainstay of treatment is to maintain good hydration. Oral rehydration salts are available worldwide. Savvy travelers bring them along- in the USA they are sold near the infant formula in supermarkets. (Pedialyte, etc). You simply mix the powder into your water bottle, and they help rehydrate you despite your illness.
Antibiotics: Talk to your travel medicine specialist. You may want to take antibiotics along so that you can treat yourself at first onset of symptoms. This reduces both the severity and duration of the illness. Different antibiotics are recommended for different destinations, your doctor can help you choose an appropriate one.
Loperamide: For those times when you don’t have access to a restroom (think safari, airplanes, etc) Over-the-counter aides can slow things down until you are near facilities. Loperamide does not treat the illness, only the symptoms.
Doctor: Of course for severe symptoms you will need to see a local doctor.
The good news is that TD is not an inevitable outcome of traveling abroad. Simple preventative measures minimize your chance of becoming ill. Just in case, bring along a few supplies such as antibiotics, rehydrating salts, and loperamide so that you can quickly and effectively treat yourself at first onset of symptoms. This simple plan will allow you to spend more time doing what you planned at your destination and less time taking care of illness.
You may also be interested in:
- How can travelers protect themselves from Dengue Fever?
- Advice about social customs in India for business travelers.
- How to minimize jet lag and improve business productivity.
How to you avoid Delhi belly? How did you treat it? Share your story in our comments section: