Helpful Tips to Avoid Gringo Stomach Ailments

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travelers diarrhea and stomach pains
Travelers diarrhea: how to avoid it.

Enjoy Mexico and South America with no Fear of Stomach Pain or Travelers Diarrhea

By Heather Terry

An art market explodes all over the San Angel neighborhood, near the San Jacinto Church. Max Hartshorne photo. stomach aches
An art market explodes all over the San Angel neighborhood, near the San Jacinto Church. Max Hartshorne photo.

When traveling to Mexico and South America, an initial concern is “the revenge” or stomach pain and travelers’ diarrhea. With the proper knowledge and preparation, traveler’s diarrhea can be prevented or at least symptoms reduced.

The first and foremost important thing to acknowledge before traveling anywhere is that your body is used to the bacteria consumed in your national environment. When you travel, the bacteria you consume is different and thus your body has to get used to it.

This is where the term homesick bacteria (Travelers Diarrhea) derives from because your body is re-adapting to new bacteria.

Improving Conditions

Despite efforts from National programs to improve conditions in Mexico and South American hotels and food handlers, there are still risks. National programs are training hotels and food handlers in regards to sanitation and food processing. There are unannounced inspections to make sure resorts take improving these conditions seriously.

Stomach Health: What to drink and not drink

In Mexico specifically, it is important to be cautious with what you eat and drink. Do not drink the water, unless it is bottled or purified. If you can’t find bottled water or purified water drink juices, sodas, or mineral water. That means avoid brushing your teeth with water as well. People’s guides even said you can brush your teeth with Coca-Cola.

You can also boil water or disinfect the water with chlorine or iodine. Also, be cautious of ice in your drinks, ice cubes are not commonly purified or distilled. Unpasteurized dairy products like milk, ice cream, etc. are also recommended to avoid. And making good decisions, like not drinking too much alcohol when in the sun all day, is probably a good route to take.

And, you’re on vacation, drinking alcohol is expected, but again, follow the rules in regard to ice and a common-sense factor of not drinking too much.

Mau Miami Seafood Tower be careful what you put in your stomach abroad
Be careful what you eat when you’re abroad.

What to eat and not eat

The most common reason for traveler’s diarrhea is contaminated food. If you eat out at a restaurant you could be risking getting sick.

People’s guide says, “No matter how fancy the restaurant or delicious the aroma, if the cook’s hands, knives, or dishes are dirty, the food will not be clean.”

This is important to note when you go out to eat.

Studies show that street foods in vendors are hygienically poor and since the dishes are kept in low temperatures, meat becomes infested with microbes. Avoid meat and seafood that is uncooked or not still warm when presented to you. For this reason, as tempting as vendor food might seem, it could also make you sick later.

Uncooked and/or porous vegetables and fruits that are not peeled or cooked are also possibly contaminated to make you sick. Fruit that should be avoided for example are grapes, raspberries, strawberries, etc.

Other contaminated food that causes most travelers diarrhea are mousses, hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, and seafood. Also, be aware that in other countries, foods are handled differently, how they are kept, cooked, or served; all these differences could lead to traveler’s diarrhea.

Of course, you are going to be excited to be in Mexico or South America, but do not overdo yourself. Like mentioned earlier, don’t drink too heavily at first, but also don’t overeat in local dishes, and on a separate note, try to avoid sun poisoning or burns for that would just make your condition worse.

Feeling sick to your stomach on a trip is the worst!
Feeling sick to your stomach on a trip is the worst!

Preparing for Stomach for your Trip

To reduce your chances of getting traveler’s diarrhea, not all the work has to be done on your vacation; there are steps to prepare you before you get headed on your way.

These steps include visiting your doctor and seeing if he or she can offer you a prescription for an emergency medication that you can use at your designation in case you get sick.

Another prevention step is to pack lots of Pepto-Bismol; it might just become your best friend. recommended you even consume Pepto-Bismol before every meal just in case you consume dangerous bacteria.

And lastly, if you do not get a doctor’s prescription note before you leave, pack Imodium. Usually, traveler’s diarrhea doesn’t last longer than 48 hours to 3 days. If you don’t feel like waiting for the bacteria to pass through your system, then you can take Imodium. Also important to note, if your traveler’s diarrhea persists past 3 days you should seek medical help.
It is good to be supplied with over-the-counter medicines before you leave for your trip.

Bismuth subsalicylate is another over-the-counter anti-secretory drug that can be effective in treating traveler’s diarrhea.

In Case you get Stomach Sick...

So what if the worst-case scenario happens and you get travelers diarrhea? Importantly, drink lots of purified water or other re-hydrating beverages and keep yourself hydrated.

Other recommended steps include eating bland starchy foods. This can include chips, to tortillas. Avoid caffeine, and take some medication if you have some. If you did not prepare and bring medication, it will not be hard to get your hands on Pepto-Bismol while vacationing, so don’t worry too much.

World Health Organization, posted on the Public Health Agency of Canada, recommend two homemade oral rehydrating drinks to help in your recovery as well. One includes fruit juice (1 cup), pasteurized honey (1/2 tsp), salt (1/8 tsp), and baking soda (1/4tsp). The second recipe is purified water (1 liter), salt (1tsp), and sugar (8tsps). With these homemade drinks, you should be on your way to recovery.

Enjoy and rest your Stomach!

And of course rest, rest, rest. Avoid sun and seek medical help if necessary. It might put a damper on your vacation to have to stay inside, avoid sun and site seeing, but in the long run, the more you focus on recovery, the faster you can get back to enjoying your vacation.

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