If you’re new to Mexico and find yourself stricken by a tummy bug, you are not alone.
According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), 20 to 50 percent of travelers get gastroenteritis, better known as Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD), or colloquially, Moctezuma’s Revenge.
The CDC defines TD as a sickness “acquired through ingestion of fecally contaminated food or water or both.” Its symptoms include nausea, excessive diarrhea, cramps and bloating. TD sets in suddenly and more often in young adults, possibly due to their more adventurous lifestyles and eating habits.
Although any foods improperly handled are suspect, primary offenders include raw fruits and vegetables, raw or under-cooked meat, tap water, ice and unpasteurized dairy products.
Symptoms rarely last more than three or four days, though ten percent of the cases last up to a week, and 15 percent are severe enough to include vomiting and bloody stools.
Though uncomfortable, TD is rarely dangerous — if the victim remembers to rest and drink plenty of fluids. To some, it is even considered a normal part of the traveling experience. According to the CDC Website, TD occurs because “travelers [going] from industrialized countries to developing countries frequently experience a rapid, dramatic change in the type of organisms in their gastrointestinal tract.”
There are many home remedies and prevention methods. Fodor’s “Up Close Mexico” recommends chamomile tea or a liter of water with a half teaspoon of salt and four teaspoons of sugar; “Mexico’s Lake Chapala and Ajijic” says eight ounces of fruit juice, a teaspoon of honey and a pinch of salt in one glass and a fourth of a teaspoon of baking soda with water in another glass, drunk together, will work. Another website recommends eating acidophilus, found in yogurt, to increase the amount of bacteria in your stomach and in turn ward off other contaminants. In a study done by the CDC, four doses a day of Pepto Bismol reduced diarrhea in 60 percent of the cases, but such high doses should not be continued for more than three weeks.
The CDC recommends watching carefully where your food and drink come from. Street vendors are considered higher risk than restaurants, which are higher risk than eating in. Fruits and vegetables should be washed in water that has been previously treated with chlorine, iodine, or boiled for more than a minute. If you’re worried about the quality of an eating establishment, order your drinks without ice. Regardless of the horrors associated with eating contaminated food, with a little care and practice it can be avoided.