Racing to the Porcelain Throne: How To Handle Traveller’s Diarrhea
You’re walking through a crowded market that lines either side of a narrow street. It’s 40 degrees, hotter than the hottest day back home and vehicles, motorbikes, and humans all weave in and out of one another. And then it hits you. You start sweating, more than you already are, your stomach begins to flip and make the most animalistic noises, and you find yourself clenching your butt cheeks together. You need a bathroom, and you need it NOW.
Traveler’s diarrhea (TD); a backpacker’s worst nightmare. My second time back to Southeast Asia, I was hesitant to even buy the medication for TD because I had been there before, I had eaten the street food and drank the water and I had been fine. Surely that means I would be spared the second time around, right?
When it hits you, it hits you hard. For any of you who’ve experienced Southeast Asia, the toilets are not the most accommodating. You only have a few seconds to get there. Rushing to the nearest washroom every time, I was often greeted with a tiny, sweltering hot, rank smelling bathroom with bugs (most often cockroaches, spiders, and moths).
Because some have only squat toilets, you thank your lucky stars when you burst through that door and there’s a beautiful Western toilet before your eyes. And then it just explodes out of you like a never ending waterfall. To make matters worse, TD often has stuff coming out both ends, at the same time and when you stand up and the room spins, you feel as though you’ve nothing left inside your body.
So what is traveler’s diarrhea?
– It’s an illness that often develops in countries such as Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
– You get it by eating contaminated food or water. Due to the large amount of street food and the lower sanitary conditions in these countries, there is a higher risk of food and water being contaminated by waste.
– For all you young travelers, young adults are especially at risk, along with people with diabetes and inflammatory-bowel disease.
Well, shit (no pun intended), how do I reduce my risk of getting it?
– Stick to bottled water and avoid ice in your drink unless you know it’s not from the tap.
– Avoid raw or undercooked meat and seafood.
– Try not to eat fruits or vegetables that are pre-peeled.
– Only eat hot food, nothing lukewarm
People also would probably say to avoid street food, but I just can’t. Take these tips into consideration, but don’t let your paranoia ruin your trip. Eat the street food, it will be some of the best food you will ever eat. Eat the mango and dragon fruit that come in little bags on the side of the road – they are delicious (but if you can find a stall with someone who peels and cuts it all up in seconds before your eyes, go for that one).
I got it anyways, now what?
– Drink lots of water. Find some of those great packets of electrolytes and mix that into your water. Constant diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration and feeling weak or faint. Always, always stay hydrated.
– Rest. Sleep. Lay in bed all day. I know it sucks, I know you want to explore every inch of that new place, but you will be miserable if you try.
– Another great thing for dehydration? Oral rehydration salts.
– Try not to eat much that first day. In my experience, it just makes it worse.
– Pepto Bismol will help with the agony in your stomach.
Oh yea, and when you’re getting your pre-departure vaccinations? Get the diarrhea pills. Those pills saved me. I would recommend waiting about two days before taking the antibiotics, as TD may treat itself. While nausea and vomiting can be a common side effect of TD, if something feels wrong, don’t be afraid to go to a clinic. It could be something else.