What to do if you get sick while traveling or working abroad

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Getting sick in a foreign country is never fun. Unfortunately, it’s usually not a matter of if you get sick, it’s when you get sick. Luckily, we’ve been there before and we’re here to help. Our team has gotten sick in various countries, and we’ve all come to a common agreement on the best way to handle sickness when it hits you. You can thank us the next time you’re hugging your toilet

Diarrhea

One morning you wake up and suddenly you have a case of, let’s call it the “liquids” for lack of a better term. We’ve been there. We understand it. Question is, once you know that you have a case of food poisoning, what should you do?

Step 1: Don’t Panic: This is your body’s natural response to a foreign pathogen. It is a good thing that your body is reacting this way. It means that it is simply trying to flush it out of your system.

Step 2: Don’t go to the doctor – yet: See if it will pass. Many times these are a bug that last for 24 hours or less and you don’t want to jump to any extreme measures. Doctors will often prescribe very extreme antibiotics (Norafloxin and Ciprafloxin) that are the equivalent of nuking your stomach, and can actually cause long term damage if you take them too frequently. If I took the doctor’s recommendation every time I got a case of a stomach bug I would have permanent stomach issues by now. These are a worse case scenario use only if nothing else works type of drug. Wait it out and poop it out.

Step 3: Drink as much fluid as possible: Assuming that you aren’t puking, drink as much water as you possibly can to make sure that you stay hydrated. You lose a lot of fluids, vitamins, and minerals throughout this process and it’s essential to make sure that you stay hydrated. One of my personal remedies is to take a liter of water and mix it with one tablespoon of salt and one tablespoon of sugar. This helps to replace the sodium and glycogen that will leave your system throughout this process. Not the greatest tasting concoction but it helps (also a fantastic hangover remedy!)

Step 4: Go to the pharmacy and get what are known as ORSL (Oral Rehydration Solutions) and Probiotics. ORSL’s help to replace lost sugar, sodium, electrolytes and more. They come in a juice box and aren’t expensive at all. DRINK SLOWLY. I see many people who get one of these and chug them down due to the fact that they believe they are dehydrated. Sip sip sip sip sip. When you are this dehydrated your body can’t absorb nutrients effectively so make sure that you drink it slowly. We recommend drinking one every 30 minutes to one hour. You might continue to lose fluids throughout this time so continue to drink them as fluids are lost.

Probiotics are live cultures that are healthy bacteria that is good for your stomach and help digestion. These won’t be a be-all-end-all, but they definitely help. But they should usually be taken with food, which leads us to our next point….

Step 5: Try to get some food in you: Although it might be tough to eat or you might not have an appetite, it’s important to continue to eat food. Many people refer to Matzah ball soup as jewish penicillin, but here in India we have the Indian penicillin; Curd Rice. Curd has probiotics and “live cultures” in it naturally and is easy on the stomach. It will also sometimes come with some vegetables and fruit that help to replace essential nutrients you have been losing. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. It is easier to keep food down and absorb nutrients the more thoroughly you chew. Also see below for homeopathic solutions, that includes a list of foods that are good to eat when dealing with a bad stomach.

Step 6: Wait: At this point you have taken all the necessary precautions and simply have to let the bug run it’s course. Sometimes these bugs will last 1-3 days and you will have to maintain this diet throughout that time. You will probably feel low on energy and lightheaded but in most instances it isn’t debilitating to the point that you won’t be able to work.

Step 7: If it is still around after 3 days, go to the doctor: At this point you have waited, tried to remain hydrated, and eaten a moderate diet but it still won’t budge. Now is the time for you to get to the doctors and get some medication. Many times the doctor will immediately recommend Norafloxin or something similar, but see what other options you have that might not be as extreme. If you aren’t puking and don’t have intense stomach pains, there is usually an alternative. Usually immodium to stop the diarrhea and a simple antibiotic + probiotic will do the trick.

Step 8: Nuke It: If you have gotten to 5 days to a week and this bug still won’t budge, time to reach for the Norafloxin or similar antibiotic. At this point this is your only option and your health takes priority over your hesitancy to powerful antibiotics. You can get this over the counter or you can visit a doctor that will give you it after a short checkup. Take it or live with the bug until it passes (but this can be dangerous).

Homeopathic Solutions: if you are one (like myself) who likes to try natural remedies, here are some herbs, vitamins, and supplements that you can use to fight the bug: (Many of these are also great for simple indigestion and nausea in the event you have a gnarly stomach ache that you can’t shake).

Ginger: Ginger is naturally anti bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal, and is great for the stomach in general. Juices and teas that are high in ginger can sometimes be all that you need to clear up a bug (if drank several times in a day). I personally like to take hot water and mix with ginger, or I’ll use soda/tonic water and make some homemade ginger ale; the bubbles from the soda help to settle your stomach.

I’ll drink this with or shortly after meals 2-3x/day while dealing with the remedy. Works very well for indigestion as well.

Kimchi: This Korean national dish is a naturally probiotic food due to the fermentation process that Kimchi must undergo, creating what are known as “active cultures”. Whenever you have a case of the stomach bug, Kimchi is a great aid that won’t knock it out entirely, but will definitely help to settle it (and it’s delicious!).

BRAT Diet: This one is commonly used as infants, as it has a combination of low-fiber, high binding foods. BRAT stands for Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Bananas also contain what is known as “pectin” which helps the body to naturally firm bowel movements.

Papaya: This one helps encourage digestion, ease indigestion, and helps with constipation as well. The secret chemical in this one is known as “papain” and “chymopapain”, which both help to break down proteins and raise the acidity of the stomach which is good for digestion.

Peppermint and Chamomile Tea: A recent study indicates that peppermint activates an anti-pain channel in the colon. In addition to easing symptoms associated with IBS, peppermint has also been shown to help with nausea. Small studies have also shown chamomile to relieve an upset stomach and abdominal pain.

Activated Charcoal: One of my personal favorites is the use of Charcoal tablets. Activated Charcoal is an absorbent and will literally suck up and absorb EVERYTHING in your stomach (including food) (*Activated Charcoal is actually what they give to someone who has a drug overdose as it will absorb the drugs and prevent it from entering the bloodstream). You will need to pick this up in the US or other country as it isn’t sold here in India.

Grapefruit Seed Extract: This one will need to be picked up in the US or other country, but once again it is anti-viral, fungal, and bacterial. This one might be a little bit of pseudo science behind it, but I know people who swear by it.

***If you’re traveling and you need a quick fix to stop it immediately, Imodium is your savior. There have been times where I was scheduled to get on a bus/flight and had a severe case of the “liquids” that weren’t budging and had to take something or it would be a trip from hell. In these instances I took Imodium and it immediately cleared me up. If no other options – imodium is your savior. Be careful though, as immodium doesn’t actually kill bacteria, it will only stop the flow. You can cause yourself long term stomach issues if you take imodium every time you get sick.

Puking

Personally, puking is one thing I don’t like to mess around with. If puking lasts for more than 12 hours, you are unable to keep water down, have intense cramps, or are heavily dry heaving – go to the hospital. I have had a few times where I passed out on the bathroom floor from puking and exhaustion – not fun. Depending on how much you are able to tolerate, and the extremity, if you are puking consistently and can’t keep down water or food it is always best to go to the hospital ASAP.

Have any other fruitful and fun food poisoning cures to share with is?! Let is know and we’ll add them in 🙂

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