Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One: Where I Met Montezuma2 min read
I recently came across a post on Road Junky where the author recounts a valuable lesson taught by a local woman in Guatemala. Even though he had survived the local waters in several countries around the world, he refrained from sampling the Guatemalan brew. Thanks to his guide, he witnessed the path the water took on the way to the spigot and made a smart decision.
I wish I had read this post BEFORE I set out on vacation to Los Cabos, on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Specifically, before I headed out to the restaurant recommended for its fish tacos and frittatas by a local fishing captain. The tacos were every little bit of heaven that he described, but later I endured a hellacious experience that still pains me to recall.
Montezuma’s Revenge, the Cairo Two-Step and my personal favorite the Thai-dal Wave are colloquial names for Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD). Each year, an estimated 10 million travelers develop TD. The primary source of infection is ingestion of contaminated food or water.
The dominant risk factor in developing TD is the travel destination. High-risk destinations include Central American countries, the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa. Young adults and individuals with weak immune systems are at higher-risk for contracting TD, and although it usually resolves itself within three to five days, for those who contract a serious infection, TD can be life-threatening.
- Maintain good hygiene and use only safe water for drinking and brushing teeth.
- Use only bottled water and avoid ice.
- Avoid raw fruits and vegetables unless peeled by the traveler.
If handled properly, well-cooked and packaged foods are usually safe. Eating raw or undercooked meat and seafood should be avoided. Dairy products, mayonnaise and cake or desert icing are associated with TD, as are foods or beverages purchased from street vendors or other establishments where unsanitary conditions are present.
With recent developments in technology, some resort destinations now have on-site water purification capabilities. It is wise to “know before you go,” so research whether tap water at hotels is considered safe.
If you are unlucky enough to become a victim, the most important thing to do is to keep yourself hydrated. There are many over-the-counter medicines available (Pepto-Bismol, Imodium, etc) to help with the symptoms, but don’t overuse them. If your symptoms do not resolve themselves within a few days, if the diarrhea is severe, bloody and/or accompanied by chills, or if you can’t maintain enough fluids in your system, find a doctor who will see you immediately. (And if you need help finding one, check out www.mpassport.com.)