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Traveler’s Diarrhea: What You Need to Know

3 Tips to keep your stomach safe while traveling

Think a flight delay will put a cramp in to your vacation? Whether you call it Montezuma's revenge, Turkey trot or Delhi belly, traveler’s diarrhea can take your great vacation and flush it down the toilet faster than a easily solved flight frustration. Trouble is, while more than half of all travelers who visit destinations such as Mexico, the Caribbean and Africa develop some form of diarrhea, most leave home unprepared to help themselves.

According to a 2012 study by Instar Research and commissioned by Janssen Inc., 94% of travelers remain oblivious to the fact that ice cubes can carry diseases like E. Coli (Enterotoxigenic E. Coli or ETEC), which can cause serious health issues – in extreme cases, death. According to the survey, “Of those affected by the illness, up to 1 in 5 are bed-ridden for an entire day and symptoms can last up to 7 days.”

The survey on E. Coli and traveler's diarrhea showed a shocking lack of travel smarts among travelers:

  • 96% didn’t know they could contract an E. Coli from raw fruits and uncooked vegetables
  • 86% didn’t know they could contract an E. Coli from undercooked meat
  • 66% didn’t know they could contract an E. Coli from drinking water or a contaminated glass
  • Additionally, 1 in 4 believed that E. Coli is transferred by skin contact

The food might look good, smell amazing and taste divine and the restaurant clean and sparkling – but don’t be fooled. There’s plenty of opportunity for contamination to happen in the kitchen where food safety standards may be non-existent.

When I travel, my health and safety is my responsibility. I’m a worst-case-scenario kinda girl and being over-prepared has never steered me wrong. If avoiding traveler’s diarrhea tops your must-do list, feel free to steal from my health and safety standards.

1. Practice healthy food handling

  • keep safe while travelingWash your hands often, especially before eating or handling your food. Say the alphabet while washing – that’s how long it should take.
  • If you're on an excursion, bring a travel hand sanitizer with you and use it frequently.
  • Drink beverages that come in a bottle. Water, soda, juice and beer are all prime targets for contamination, so if you don't watch them being opened, get a new one.
  • Eat only fresh fruit and vegetables that haven't been peeled. Wash them with bottled water before eating. 

2. Avoid these foods

  • Ice cubes
  • Salad bars
  • Food that has been sitting – buffets are a big culprit
  • Food that hasn't been thoroughly cooked – including dairy products, eggs and sushi
  • Water – Drink only bottled water (even for brushing your teeth)
  • Street food – This comes with a caveat. If the food is piping hot and there’s a long line of people, the food is probably safe because of the high turnover. But if flies are feasting on the food waiting to be cooked or the surfaces don’t look clean, go with your “gut” instincts.  

3. Plan for a cure

don't let Montezuma take revengeNo matter how fastidious you are, there's still a chance you'll get sick – just like you, diarrhea likes to stay at 5-star resorts. Plan ahead and bring an anti-diarrhea medication. If diarrhea or an upset stomach becomes your new traveling companion, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – and try these tips:

  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice into a bottle of water to help kill the pathogens causing the diarrhea.
  • Eat garlic (or garlic capsules) to help kill harmful bacteria.
  • Drink 6 oz of red or white wine to help kill bacteria.
  • Keep your diet simple. Very simple.
  • Seek medical treatment right away if symptoms are accompanied with severe abdominal pain, a high fever or you see blood in your stool.

And remember, just because locals have developed their tastes to stomach this food, that doesn't mean you have the same iron clad digestive system.

Ever had traveler's diarrhea or Montezuma's Revenge? How did you cope? Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook – I’d love to hear your ideas!

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