While traveling overseas, one small sip or bite could put you in a world of trouble. Traveler’s diarrhea, also jokingly called Montezuma’s Revenge, Delhi belly and other cutesy names, affects anywhere from 30% to 70% of international travelers depending on the region of the world visited , according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
The CDC classifies these groups as high, intermediate and low:
- High Risk: Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and Central and South America
- Intermediate Risk: Eastern Europe, South Africa and some Caribbean islands
- Low Risk: U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Northern and Western Europe.
Although traveler’s diarrhea is perhaps one of the most common health problems faced by travelers, Legesse Mekonnen, MD, infectious disease specialist with Banner Health Clinic, shared four tips to help avoid acquiring a nasty infection.
1. Before you hop on a plane
Talk to your doctor a few weeks prior to your travel to make sure you don’t need any vaccinations or medications. It’s best to have any antidiarrheal and antibiotics on hand, just in case.
2. Mind the water
“Water in a developing country tends to have higher load of gastrointestinal pathogens, such as E. coli, so you are prudent to avoid any contact that could potentially be an entry for the bacteria, such as your mouth and eyes,” Dr. Mekonnen said.
As a good rule of thumb, only drink bottled water and factory-sealed drinks. This means no ice or diluted juices either. While showering, avoid getting water in your eyes and mouth. And use bottled water when brushing your teeth. If you must use tap water, boil it for at least three minutes. Dr. Mekonnen doesn’t recommend water purification tablets as success rates vary.
3. Cook it, boil it, peel it and, when in doubt, leave it.
This means you should make sure food is well cooked or boiled or you have peeled yourself with clean hands. If you are someone who enjoys street food, Dr. Mekonnen said you may be putting yourself at a higher risk of exposure. So, look for food in reputable places that use good hygiene practices and serve food piping hot. If you are craving raw fruits and vegetables, make sure you have washed them in clean water or peeled them. And avoid raw seafood at all costs.
“Raw, unwashed fruits and vegetables are more likely to be contaminated with pathogens, such as E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella and Campylobacter,” Dr. Mekonnen said. “Avoid any roadside fruits, but if you bring fruits home, wash them vigorously and consume after peeling off the skin. If there is any doubt, then throw them out.”
Mom was right. Before you eat, you have to wash your hands. Pack an antibacterial soap or bring hand sanitizer wipes of gel with you wherever you go. And, as a general rule, keep your filthy paws away from your mouth and eyes to reduce the spread of any bacteria.
Oh, no … There she blows!
If you happen to get traveler’s diarrhea—even after following these tips—Dr. Mekonnen said to take this seriously and make sure you treat yourself or seek medical attention. Here are some tips for if you are struck down by Montezuma’s Revenge:
Hydrate: Drink ample fluid.
Anti-Motility Meds: If you aren’t showing significant improvement within 1-3 days, Dr. Mekonnen said an anti-motility, such as loperamide, is good to take.
Beyond 3-5 days or if you notice blood in your stool accompanied with a fever, find a local doctor or call your own doctor because you may need an antibiotic.
“Also remember, you can get diarrhea from any major changes in your diet, so be mindful of what you are eating,” Dr. Mekonnen said. “Don’t go from a healthy diet to eating nothing but fried food and ice cream. You are bound to get sick.”
Are you traveling overseas and have questions? Schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Banner Health professionals by visiting bannerhealth.com.