Traveler’s Diarrhea and How to Handle It
Let’s face it. This is a disgusting topic, but more than likely if you travel to a developing country, you’re going to have a few bouts with traveler’s diarrhea or other intestinal bugs.
– Visit a travel clinic before you travel – In my case, the doctor wrote me a prescription that I could refill up to three times. I’ve had to use it twice so far in Guatemala, but it’s saved me some lab costs. Hold on to that prescription. Most likely, the pharmacist won’t even take it. You can use it to refill medication.
– Don’t drink water from the tap – This includes using water to brush your teeth or getting free water at the bar. Sanitary systems in some countries are not to the same standards as developed countries. You can use bottled water for your toothbrush.
– Avoid street food and wash raw fruits and vegetables with soap – This is the advice that you see in every travel book. Street food isn’t stored properly, and that salad may have been rinsed with tap water.
I’m Sick; Now What?
– Go to the doctor (if you don’t have a prescription, or if you do have a prescription and it’s not diarrhea) – You want to make sure you get tested so you can get an antibiotic to kill whatever is inside your gut. You’ll have to do your business in a cup, and the lab should have the results for you within a few hours. In my case, I was constipated once in Belize and once in Guatemala. It turned out that I had some amoebas and fungi. Please don’t be deterred by costs; this isn’t the United States. Costs are exponentially lower in developing countries. In Central America, my medications and two lab visits cost me under $25. The same treatment would have probably cost more than $120 in the United States.
– When you take your medication, don’t drink – This should be pretty self-explanatory, but alcohol can have a strong reaction with antibiotics. After four drinks in San Pedro, Guatemala, I was vomiting for 24 hours straight starting the next morning. That led to me having to spend a second day in bed to recover from dehydration. You’ve been warned.
– Stay home – Yeah, you tell yourself that you can push yourself to go on that tour or go out with your friends. Realize that what your body needs is hydration and rest. So, in-between dashes to the toilet, pop in a movie or catch up on that novel that’s at the bottom of your backpack. It’s not the end of the world to stay somewhere for a day.
– If it’s diarrhea, wait until it’s bad before you get medication – If you have a few loose stools, the medication you take will probably keep you from using the bathroom for days. However, if you’re rushing to the bathroom every hour or so, it’s probably time to go to the doctor to get something to regulate you.
This article isn’t here to scare you. I know people who drink from the tap in Belize and Guatemala and are fine. Street food is also some of the most delicious food that you may eat on your travels (and it’s the best value that you can usually find in a city). Realistically, you will most likely have to deal with these stomach bugs when you travel. But now you know what to do in case it happens.