When we jet off on a getaway there is generally an agenda of sun, sea, sand and overall heightened wellbeing. There’s nothing that puts an end to the best made plans like a traveller’s tummy bug and with an upset stomach affecting up to 50 per cent of holidaymakers within the first week of their trip, it’s important to get savvy on how to deal with it should the nasties strike.
We look at how to prevent, cope with and recover from the dreaded holiday belly…
BEFORE YOU GO AWAY
There are probiotics containing certain strains of bacteria (Saccharomyces Boulardii and a mixture of Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum) that appear to be effective in preventing traveller tummy. Additionally, in the weeks before you travel you can stock up on probiotic-rich foods such as kombucha (fermented sweet tea), kefir (fermented milk drink), kimchi (fermented Chinese cabbage), sourdough bread and yoghurts – which contain active, live cultures.
Eat Prebiotic Food
Prebiotics are a source of food that enable probiotics to grow, multiply, survive and thrive in the gut. They are found in soluble food fibres, such as onion, garlic, artichokes, leeks, chicory and asparagus. They essentially act as the fertiliser for our gut garden of microbes.
Be prepared – pack some anti-diarrhoea tablets such as Imodium as well as rehydration salts such as Dioralyte sachets. If travelling with children, pack a thermometer also.
WHILE YOU’RE AWAY
Keep Your Hands Clean
Viruses and parasites can easily be spread from person to person. The simplest, most effective way of preventing the spread of bugs is to wash your hands – A LOT – ideally with hot water and soap. If you don’t have access to water at all times, carry hand sanitizer or wipes with you.
Avoid Tap Water
When you can’t be sure of the purity of the local water, then it should be avoided. This includes taking ice in drinks, brushing your teeth with tap water or eating fruit / vegetables that have been washed in tap water.
Even if locals drink it without any problems, it’s unlikely your stomach will have the suitable bacteria to protect you from becoming unwell. As a precaution, always drink bottled water, ensuring the seal is intact when purchased. If you want to reduce the number of bottles you buy, you can also try boiling tap water and drinking it when cooled – this is the most reliable method of removing bugs, but will not remove dirt.
Avoid Raw Or Undercooked Foods
As a rule of thumb, choose freshly prepared, well-cooked food – served hot. Encounters with norovirus, non-typhoidal Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli tend to be the main culprits for stomach bugs abroad. They often lurk in contaminated food such as raw or undercooked meat, eggs, fresh produce and dairy products. Uncooked seafood is a common culprit of sickness in many developed countries such as Spain.
Consider swapping your salads and raw veggies, which may have been washed in unclean or contaminated water, for cooked vegetables instead – the high temperatures will have killed off any bacteria that may be present.
Get Picky About Fruit
Choose fruit that has to be peeled to be eaten – such as bananas, mangos, oranges or pomegranate. Freshly prepare these fruits yourself.
Buffets are often highlighted as holiday hazards, as there is no way to know how long foods have been sitting out. Often street vendors get a bad rap as holidaymakers are wary about contamination or the quality of the food on offer, however more often than not they cook the produce fresh in front of you (at high temperatures), so street stalls can be a safer bet than buffet-style meals.
Eating little and often will give the digestive system more time to process the new foods you be be consuming. If you do happen to eat contaminated food, there will be less of this food and therefore less of the bacteria in your body.
Follow The Locals
Check out the popular local haunts, the chances are they are established and popular for a reason. When dining out pay attention to cleanliness, including tablecloths, cutlery, glasses and the state of the toilet facilities.
IF YOU GET SICK
The main symptoms of food poisoning are vomiting and/or diarrhoea. This may or may not be associated with shivers and a fever, stomach ache, fatigue, headaches and muscle pain.
Fluids, fluids, fluids. Little and often. The most important thing is to make sure that you drink plenty of fluids to avoid lack of fluid in your body and dehydration.
Take paracetamol for fever, aches and tummy cramps. If you can stomach any food, eat bland foods like rice, soup, toast and bananas. Avoid spicy, fried or fatty foods.
When You Return Home
If you caught a bug while travelling the best thing you can do when you get home is to try to support your healthy gut bacteria through a good diet, meaning eating lots of fibre and probiotic-rich foods. You can add in a probiotic supplement for extra support.