If you’ve ever suffered through a bout of food poisoning, you know how dreadful that experience can be. But if you’ve ever suffered through a bout of food poisoning while traveling… well, that’s a whole different animal.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that food poisoning causes 48 million illnesses and up to 3,000 deaths each year. Without your general practitioner, the comforts of home and your mom on speed dial, a bad situation can become downright miserable. Anything you can do to prevent food poisoning or shorten its life cycle once it begins (or at least put a halt to some of the more unpleasant symptoms) is important information to learn well in advance of being in throes of an illness. Here are some tips on how to fight food poisoning:
How to Prepare
Several weeks before your trip, begin taking a probiotic to help ward off any stomach issues while traveling. Educate yourself on foods to avoid in certain countries and when bottled water is a necessity. Talk to your doctor about obtaining a prescription for an antibiotic to take with you as well as instructions for what symptoms to look for when considering taking the medicine. Also talk to your doctor about obtaining prescription anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea medications and when it is best to take them versus letting the illness run its course.
Pack a first aid kit that includes oral re-hydration salts and any over-the-counter medicine that might be hard to obtain in foreign countries.
How to Prevent
- Don’t eat anything raw that doesn’t have a peel. In other words, stick to fruits like bananas.
- Avoid milk products.
- One strategy is to eat places that are highly frequented – not only so you know that it is reputable but so that you know the food is moving through the restaurant and not sitting around all day.
- When drinking the local water is a concern, always drink bottled water with a seal, even when brushing your teeth. (Some people even use iodine tablets in their bottled water to be on the safe side.) Don’t open your mouth in the shower!
- Avoid ice.
- Drink soda in cans that you can open – not in bottles.
- If you are really paranoid, stick to vegetarian meals to avoid any potential issues with meat.
How to Treat
Symptoms of food poisoning usually present 48 hours after eating contaminated food. If despite your best efforts you become ill with food poisoning, follow your doctor’s previous instructions with regard to taking any medications. Your primary concern at this point, however, is dehydration. Drinking as much clear fluids as possible, especially containing the oral rehydration packets you brought along, is a must. If water is a challenge, though, suck on ice chips just to introduce some fluids into your body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of severe dehydration include extreme thirst; irritability and confusion; very dry mouth, skin and mucous membranes; lack of sweating; little or no urination – any urine that is produced will be dark yellow or amber; sunken eyes; shriveled and dry skin that lacks elasticity and doesn’t “bounce back” when you pinch into a fold; low blood pressure; rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing; no tears when crying; fever; and in the most serious cases, delirium or unconsciousness.
If you have any question that you have entered the zone of dehydration and you are unable to injest any liquids, it’s time to seek medical treatment.
Talk to someone at your hostel or hotel to find a doctor or hospital. After the vomiting ceases and you are able to hold down liquids, slowly begin eating bland foods following the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) diet.