Medical Issues – Diarrhea

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It’s not an adventure if you’re not miserable. ~Unknown

Originally published in 2012 / Updated in 2017

Diarrhea, I suppose, is not only one of the most common traveler diseases, it is a frequent problem for locals too. No wonder, with some of these hygienic standards, or the lack thereof. We have most certainly had our share, especially in Pakistan. During our journey we not only learned a lot about hospitals in foreign countries and medical care, we learned a couple of things about diarrhea as well.

We learned:

  • To wash our hands more thoroughly than we were used to before eating, especially in Asia where eating with our fingers (depending on the country) often was the norm.
  • To keep our nails short.
  • We filtered water into our drinking bottles but forgot that we needed to thoroughly clean out those bottles every once in a while as we drank from them directly. In retrospect this sounds stupidly simple, but we learned the lesson the hard way. Steradent tablets have purified our bottles perfectly.
  • As we were having regular bouts of diarrhea, our bodies lost lots of minerals and couldn’t recuperate. We grew weaker, resulting in yet another diarrhea bout. Another traveler advised us to take multivitamins. Not for the vitamins (you generally eat enough fruits) but exactly to give ourselves those minerals. We noticed the difference within a week.
  • To avoid dehydration, Ors rehydration (ORS, find it here) is a perfect product. It’s a simple mixture of water, salt and sugar which helps to prevent dehydration. You can buy ORS as packages or make it yourself. WHO suggests dissolving half a small spoon of salt and six level small spoons of sugar in one liter of safe water.
Getting a shave in Pakistan

What Do We Do in Case of Diarrhea?

After all these lessons we quickly minimized diarrhea problems. Over the first couple of years our statistics said about once per country for each of us, which has reduced to close to never at the time of updating this (2017). I’ve come to accept it as something like you get a cold every once in a while in Europe. Our body is telling us to slow down for a bit.

We have never taken Imodium to stop diarrhea. We take time out, have taken hotel rooms with private bathrooms and just sicken it out. The only time we took medicines was in Iran, after it became clear we were both infected with giardiasis and our bodies were incapable of getting rid of it on their own.

A Feces Test

Which brings me to the feces test. We are not in favor of just taking antibiotics in the hope things will get better. Antibiotics damage a lot of intestine flora, also good bacteria. Better get a feces test at a hospital or one of these small private medical practices – they are the most common thing in Asia (esp. Pakistan and India, we remember but that’s maybe because we needed them there).

You get results within a couple of hours and you can then treat diarrhea adequately. The tests cost next to nothing.

Camping in India

Diarrhea Problems in South America?

We have hardly been ill on this continent, least of all with diarrhea. I remember once in Bolivia and twice in Brazil. One bout was so bad I did have to go to the hospital to get some help with fluid and pills so I’d at least could drink water without vomiting. That worked very quickly.

At the risk of sounding terribly generalizing, but we say that South America has higher hygienic standards than Asia. But, not unimportantly, I believe our bodies have built up a thick immune system after all those trials and errors in Asia.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

What are your experiences? We look forward to hearing other opinions and ideas on the subject. Please share them with us in the comments below so other travelers may benefit from them. Thanks.

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