Purva Indulkar tells you about traveller’s diarrhoea and how to prevent it, so that you can avoid embarrassing situations that require you to constantly run to the bathroom!
If you’re a frequent traveller, the likelihood that you will experience embarrassing digestive issues on a trip will be pretty high. Remember having to miss out on a tour of the Red Fort because you couldn’t stop throwing up? But, while intestinal discomfort is almost always a given when you’re visiting a new place, it can range from irregular bowel movements to full-blown traveller’s diarrhoea. So, in order to avoid the extreme, we’re telling you a few things about the condition that you should keep in mind. And, based on your travel plans, we tell you whether you’re at a high risk of this embarrassing and uncomfortable condition.
Also known as Montezuma’s Revenge or Delhi belly, traveller’s diarrhoea (TD) occurs when your food is contaminated with disease-causing microorganisms, mostly from faeces. However, remember that roughly a third of TD cases caused are due to stress, jet lag and changes in eating habits. It’s an illness that lasts for about two or three days at least, and if it’s mild or moderate, you won’t need medical consultations or antibiotic treatment.
How you can avoid it
Contamination occurs primarily through food or water, so make sure that you eat at hygienic places when you’re travelling. But, there are other ways that you can get traveller’s diarrhoea too. You can also catch the bug when you’re interacting with people — for example, if you shake hands with someone who has traveller’s diarrhoea and who hasn’t washed their hands properly. Also, don’t just jump into a forest pond willy-nilly, because swimming in contaminated water can cause this condition. While you might avoid swimming in rivers and oceans because they’re contaminated with sewage, even chlorinated water can have active infective agents and gut parasites.
Dealing with it
If you’ve been affected by TD, it’s important to get adequate rest. Don’t continue sightseeing with your tour group if you’re not feeling well. Apart from the other dangers to your health, venturing outdoors in this state may require you to use a public toilet! Drink plenty of fluids and make sure that your body temperature doesn’t get too high. Examine your stool for blood or mucus, which might indicate something severe, and check the colour and quantity of your urine as well. If you don’t find your condition improving, it’s best to look for a doctor who can prescribe you with medication.
If you’ve TD, you’ll need to replace the minerals such as sodium, potassium and chlorides that your body loses and stay hydrated at the same time. Drink a mixture of six teaspoons of sugar or honey and half a teaspoon of table salt in one litre of boiled water. Drinks such as coffee, strong tea, alcohol and soft drinks should be avoided, because they can irritate your gut. Also, steer clear of dairy products; sugar in milk could worsen your condition.
So you think you have TD?
Take our quiz to find out whether you’re at a relatively high risk of getting traveller’s diarrhoea on your next trip.
1. How long will your next trip be?
a) A long one. I’ve been saving up for it.
b) A weekend getaway. I need to recharge.
2. Where do you generally eat when you’re on a trip?
a) I grab a bite at small stalls and restaurants to get a sense of the local flavour.
b) I eat at good hotels. I’m quite picky when it comes to hygiene.
3. What do you usually eat on a trip?
a) Salads to keep myself energised and lots of meat for protein.
b) Anything, as long as it’s healthy.
4. When you eat at shacks, do you need your food to be fresh?
a) Not really. I enjoy a soggy, hard jalebi just as much as a pipping hot one.
b) Yes. I need my snack to be freshly fried.
You may be at risk of getting traveller’s diarrhoea
Based on your (frankly, quite careless) approach towards travelling, it looks like you are at risk of getting traveller’s diarrhoea. To avoid that (and in order not to miss out on visiting the tourist attractions that you’re eager to see when you’re on holiday) take the precautions we’ve mentioned above.
Your travel is pretty safe
While you do seem to be on track in terms of healthy eating, conditions such as TD can be caused by a number of factors. Try not to stress your body too much on the day of sightseeing and make sure to get enough rest every day.