Getting and Treating Monteczuma’s Revenge

Walking past the row of vendors cooking meat, sausages, French fries and small yellow potatoes was tempting. Sporting a fedora and a Grand Canyon smile, Charlie Martinez fronted his cart offerings of fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh-strained carrot juice. We ordered one each. I opted for a fried sausage with some yellow potatoes. The potatoes were fine. “Don’t eat that sausage”, my wife Doris warned. I heeded not – even when I noticed it was slightly undercooked. That night I paid the price. Bathroom trips came every 20 minutes or so. The smell alone could kill. I swallowed Gatorade like an Olympic athlete in training to help prevent my growing dehydration. Finally, in the wee hours we headed for the emergency room. I had Giardiasis.Giardia is a microscopic parasite which moves around using a pair of whiskers called flagella and lives in the small intestines. It is a common cause of diarrhea. Symptoms can include yellow, foul-smelling diarrhea with bubbles or froth but without blood or mucus, an uncomfortable, swollen abdomen, and mild cramps with lots of gas. The diarrhea may come and go from day to day. There is usually no fever. One symptom that is fairly specific to Giardiasis is passing stools which stink and are difficult to flush away because they float.Recommended treatments are fairly straightforward. You could try 24 hours on clear fluids and a bland, fat-free diet with lots of rest before starting antibiotics. Giardia infections can often clear up by themselves. “Flagyl” (metronidazole) 2 grams per day for 3 days or Tinidazole (not available in the USA) are common. The drug Quinacrine (Mepacrine) works well too but can cause some side effects. Do not drink alcohol during treatment or you will feel ill. Competent medical treatment by a physician should always be sought for symptoms of any illness while in a foreign country.Untreated Giardiasis normally does little harm except make you an unwelcome guest and cause some loss of weight. My case was treated with Tetracycline tablets for three days. The organism is transmitted through improper hygiene, especially fecal-oral transmission. Always observe proper hygiene and don’t eat raw, uncooked or partially-cooked foods. Take NO foods or drinks with ice in them. Use treated or bottled water only at all times. Hotels in the mid-range and up often can recommend a physician or treatment for minor infirmities while you are abroad. Before traveling it’s also a good idea to see your doctor for recommendations and advice. Protect your health. Protect yourself.Two recommendable health references for travelers are:”Bugs, Bites and Bowels” by Dr. Jane Wilson Howarth”Staying Healthy in Asia, Africa and Latin America” by Dirk G. Schroeder

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