While enjoying my first visit to Portugal in December, I had the misfortune of coming down with food poisoning late one night. I suspect some raw oysters I ate that day were the culprit, but I’ll never know for sure.
The result was 12 hours of GI hell and a canceled tour of the palaces of Sintra. All told, it could’ve been worse, but in the moment, I wouldn’t have wished that agony on my worst enemy. Unfortunately, food poisoning is an all-too-common experience for travelers.
“Food poisoning is typically caused by consuming contaminated food or water containing harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins,” Dr. Mark Fischer, regional medical director of International SOS, told HuffPost.
The term “food poisoning” thus refers to the foodborne illnesses that result from the ingestion of these contaminants, which can result in gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea.
“Food poisoning is more likely when traveling to a foreign country since our bodies are not used to the local bacteria found in the food and water,” Fischer said. “Our bodies may have a negative response to the new bacteria being introduced.” No one wants to have to spend their precious vacation time stuck in a hotel room rushing to the toilet every half hour and wondering when the misery will end.
“The good news is most cases are mild and shouldn’t greatly impact your trip,” said Dr. Shengyi Mao, an internist and pediatrician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
If you find yourself in this situation, there are also steps you can take to alleviate the discomfort and symptoms. Below, Fischer and Mao break down what to do if you contract food poisoning while traveling.
“If you believe you have food poisoning while traveling, it’s crucial to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and electrolytes,” Fischer said.
As you weather the symptoms, try to drink electrolyte-heavy drinks like Gatorade or add powdered hydration multipliers to your water. Sip slowly if you’re experiencing nausea.
Stick to bland foods.
“Stick to bland food until symptoms subside,” Fischer advised.
Don’t force yourself to eat more than you can handle, and follow the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) diet if possible. Saltine crackers can be helpful as well.
“Eat small amounts to keep your energy up,” Mao said.
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