Staying healthy abroad
Rumor has it that the Spanish conquistadors weren’t particularly merciful when they did away with the once-mighty Aztec ruler Moctezuma II. His sentence—death by drinking liquid gold—has since prompted millions to refer to the well-known stomach viruses often obtained when in Mexico and other travel destinations, as “Moctezuma’s Revenge.”
Unfortunately, most of our systems have not built up the resistance to many strains of bacteria commonly present abroad, and thus we more easily succumb to stomach troubles when we travel.
So how do you avoid “Moctezuma’s Revenge”? Here are some helpful tips for staying healthy abroad, regardless of destination:
- Don’t drink the water. Many countries, especially those in less developed areas, do not have the same purification systems as the United States. Even if you’re in what you perceive to be a “clean” area, stick to the bottled stuff—even when brushing your teeth or gargling. Another oft-forgotten tip? Skip the ice.
- Salad lovers, beware. This rule goes hand-in-hand with the water warning. Keep in mind that the staff at the restaurant probably isn’t in the back rinsing your fresh veggies with bottled water. While there is a cleansing additive put in water used to soak/clean veggies, you can never be sure if that’s actually being used. Opt for cooked vegetables whenever possible. And if you avoid veggies all together, be sure to pack some Magnesium Hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia) just in case.
- Avoid the street fare. As appetizing as that street vendor with the piping hot tamales looks…steer clear. While likely delicious, remember that this food is being prepared in the street, on a cart, with no sink or cleaning products in sight. Be adventurous at your own risk.
- Be prepared. You can’t always avoid everything potentially dangerous to your health, and if you travel enough you’re bound to make contact with old Moctezuma sooner or later. Just as charcoal has been used in the past to absorb poison in the stomach of an unfortunate victim, it can also help to absorb the critters that might be lurking in the so-so water, or in that questionable meal you bought off the street. Pack a bottle or two of charcoal tablets (available over the counter at your local pharmacy) and take one after a meal you’re not so sure about. If all else fails and your body cedes to the bacteria, make sure you’ve got plenty of Imodium for the consequences, and oral rehydration salts to ensure that your body stays hydrated throughout.
- Know the area and understand your trip. Prior to your trip, you can research the area you’re going to visit. The CDC and WHO websites provide some great information to that end, placing you in a better position to make informed decisions. Also, make sure you understand the medical proceedings in the country you’re going to visit (i.e. state run hospitals versus private). Enrolling in insurance for international travel is especially smart, as costs can vary widely and getting medical evacuation back to the United States is extremely cost-prohibitive.
Be smart, stay healthy, and as always…