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Food Poisoning

San Francisco...
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Food Poisoning

When people ask if Central America, or any of the particular countries composing the region, is safe, they are usually thinking in terms of theft, robbery and violence. Most travelers, thankfully, have been safe throughout their trip where those matters are concerned. But, when it comes to other aspects of their well being, such as food quality and safety, I would say that a fair number of people are sick within a day or two of arriving. Some people get sick and have no idea what ails them. Others realize that they have acquired parasites, lice, mites, or that their digestive systems have been overrun by invading and rapidly multiplying bacteria, owing to the full blown sense of urgency such a matter imparts. So, when it comes to the matter of food safety, I would argue that the region is definitely not safe, that it is likely that you will become ill, the chances that you will spend a significant amount of time on the toilet, and going without food, owing to a weak stomach, are typically fairly high. The chances that you will acquire a parasite, such as worms, is higher than you would probably ever like to imagine. One of the odd things about some regions, or nations, of Central America is this, perhaps the water in the country is very cheap, no one complains about the price of water, they laugh about it. And yet, and yet, the water is known to be contaminated to some extent or another. No one would think about drinking it if they could afford to buy bottled water. But, owing to politics, and ignorance, no one would think about raising the price of water in order to drastically improve the quality and safety. So, if you visit even a salad bar, and they have thoroughly cleaned the vegetables that are on your plate, the water they used may be bad enough to cause a reaction. Food of all kinds, of all types, can cause a severe negative reaction. Pork, which is a popular meat in many Central American countries, can contain an organism that, if you are unfortunate enough to digest it, will invade your brain and it will evade efforts at being removed. Now, how badly do you want to eat pork? Please, share with us your story about how you got sick, what exactly turned your stomach, and how long did it take after your arrival?

San Francisco...
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1. Re: Food Poisoning

In 6 trips to Central America including 2 to Nicaragua (where I ate plenty of street food), I have never (knock on wood) experienced any gastrointestinal symptoms. Also keep in mind that the parasite that the OP mentions above in pork (T. solium tapeworm) is relatively harmless as adult tapeworms is what you would find in undercooked meat. It's only if you consume the larvae found in feces of someone infected can it be harmful.

2. Re: Food Poisoning

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Chichiriviche...
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3. Re: Food Poisoning

I have travelled through South and Central America for overr two years and leaving now since over 3 years in Nicaragua i got never sick of food and water..I love salad and have eaten it al over so i can really not say that this area is bad for food...

Salta

Minneapolis...
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4. Re: Food Poisoning

This is one of the oddest and humorous post's I've read. Not even sure how to respond to this......

Washington DC...
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5. Re: Food Poisoning

Sounds like someone has some personal issues here.

Anyone traveling either domestically or abroad needs to consider appropriate personal safety and health issues, regardless of home residence or destination. I have had GI issues more than once when traveling and it's slowed me down, but never stopped me.

Even people in good health may be liable to infection when exposed to unfamiliar disease agents, to which they have not acquired immunity at home. Commonly recommended food safety precautions include:

Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat or seafood (this is true at home, too.)

Avoid eating raw fruits and vegetables unless you have peeled them yourself.

Avoid eating foods or drinking beverages from street vendors or unhygienic establishments.

If handled properly, well-cooked and packaged foods are usually safe.

Tap water, ice, unpasteurized milk and dairy products are associated with increased risk of Traveler's Diarrhea.

Safe beverages include: bottled carbonated beverages, hot tea or coffee, alcohol, boiled or appropriately treated water.

(From CDC website.)

Check with www.cdc.gov for information specific to your destination.

Speak with a travel medicine doctor (if appropriate) about your conditions, travel plans, and needs.

Bring over the counter anti-diarrheals and (especially for longer trips) antibiotics (requires doctor's prescription.)

Also remember that traveler's diarrhea can be dose dependent. If you drink a LOT of unclean water, you will probably end up sicker, faster, than if you drank a few sips. So if you forgot, or slipped up once or twice, don't just throw out the recommendations for the rest of your trip.

I am looking forward to my trip to Nicaragua! I am sure I will have a few questions for the folks here before I leave.

Seattle, Washington
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6. Re: Food Poisoning

I have been to and backpacked through five South American countries and two Central American countries and not once did I get sick.

I had those sani wipe things in my bag and washed my hands when and if I could however every time before eating.

Never got sick in India either and I ate tons there.Drank only the bottled water however,

San Francisco...
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7. Re: Food Poisoning

Sounds like a few of you have gotten lucky. I was listening to a number of backpack class travelers in a bar / restaurant and many of them were either recounting their personal tales of woe or they were describing someone else´s abdominal / intestinal affliction. A casual sampling of posts gives evidence in support of what I have been saying. Honestly, if you spend more than two weeks in Central America, I would suggest that you visit a clinic before returning to your country of orgin in order to provide a stool sample for testing, it might cost you as much as a whole $6.00, depending on where you go and which clinic you visit. And that amount should cover the medical consultation. If you traveled throughout India and you never got ill and you ate wrecklessly, then you have no one to thank but the G_Ds. There are numerous YouTube videos of what appear to be public defecation rituals in India, along river Banks, lake fronts, rail road tracks, in open fields, on hillsides, everywhere and anywhere you can think about, privacy doesn´t appear to be an issue. And no one is passing a roll of toilet paper, either. I am not saying that India isn´t making great strides and that there is no Cosmopolitan culture there, of course there is. But not everyone is marching to modernity at the same pace. Someone has to bring up the rear, no pun intended. There are public festivals in plenty of villages when the doors to the new public pit toilet swing open, congragulations. I honestly think it is fantastic that public awareness should be raised to that level, in some communities it is a big step forward. But let me tell you something, I visited a hog farm in Central America last year. The hog farmer also had plenty of free roaming cattle, dairy cattle. And he had a pasteurization operation on the farm, too. Let me tell you how it worked, milk that had been collected from the dairy cows was run through a heating system through a series of galvanized pipes. The heating unit consisted of a wáter heater. Yes, a 50 gallon standing wáter heater. It wasn´t in operation when I saw it. I guess the rocket scientist behind that idea realized at some point in time that he had created an unscrubbable bacterial breeding vat of significant proportions. Whoever mentioned sani-wipes, yes, that is a very good idea. A better idea if you ride public transportation, is to carry a small tuve of 99% pure alcohol with you, so that you can keep your hands germ free. Ever notice how everyone seems to get sick all at once, these illnesses are comunicable. You have food vendors washing dirty cups and plastic glasses with a limited supply of wáter. They are washing and rinsing using a grand total of two buckets, one to wash, one to rinse, and the germs and viruses are not impressed with the process.

Washington DC...
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8. Re: Food Poisoning

If you are this paranoid about getting sick on vacation, you should not leave home. But let's face it, you are not immune to communicable disease at home either. You can get cold/ flu virus at home as well as away.

For the rest of us, reasonable precautions are sufficient.

Make sure you are appropriately immunized for whatever region you will be in. Make sure your tetanus vaccine is up to date (even if you are not traveling, but especially if you are.) Hepatitis A vaccine, among others, is highly recommended for those traveling in the developing world.

As Hawksfan said, sani-wipes or alchocol wipes or gel is a good thing to keep handy (although in many cases the problem is food handlers who do not wash their hands, not the food-eater).

Getting a stool test is entirely unnecessary if you have no symptoms.

We all face risks every day, every time we cross a street or get into a car. We do what we can to manage the risk. Living inside a bubble is not living. Those of us here on TA want to see the world. Exposure to communicable disease is part of the risk to be managed, it is not a reason to avoid travel.

San Francisco...
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9. Re: Food Poisoning

Yes. You are precisely correct. A food handler at a Wendy´s Burger joint probably did a perfectly acceptable job grilling the meat, possibly to a state of perfection, however, they transferred bacteria onto the buns, which weren´t toasted, either from their hands or from their gloves, whichever, the result that was I caught a whiff of what could only be meat borne bacteria, yes it has a very distinct odor, on my hands about an hour after the meal. The bacteria were apparently replicating at a phenomenal rate. I washed my hands before the meal, but not afterwards. At any rate, the offending food ítem was already tucked away in my stomach, at least for the time being. I usually eat very healthy at home in the States. No burgers, fries, pizza, soda, highly processed foods, etc. I am the kind of person who will eat half a dozen raw eggs with raw oatmeal and almond milk. I tried two raw eggs in Central America and I did not care to eat again for 9 days, I completely lost a desire to eat, I forgot what hunger was for nearly a week and a half. On the tenth day I ate a personal pan pizza, I nearly painted the Wall with it a few hours later. It seemed to start growing larger and larger in my stomach until it could no longer fit down there. My gut apparently had the good sense to not admit it, so it had to go back out the same way it had come in. Anyways, as I said, in the States I am one healthy eater, since I moved into an expensive neighborhood in a third world country, i am surrounding by fast food joints. Right now, I am honestly looking at flights for France, I need healthy food. You don´t pour bio-diesel in a Lamborghini.

Edited: 11 June 2014, 23:54
Washington DC...
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10. Re: Food Poisoning

Okay, #1: You 'eat very healthy' food but you are eating raw eggs? Do you not realize this is a significant source of salmonella, even at home? This is not healthy eating. Neither is Wendy's. Neither, for that matter, is French food. (Tasty, yes. Healthy, no.) Where on earth are you getting your information?

I recommend you review the CDC website or other reliable source of information on traveler's health. And do yourself a favor and read a serious book on nutrition (not something written by some anorexic celebrity on a fad diet).

In terms of travel plans, I suggest you check out Guinea. There's a bit of Ebola going on there you might enjoy. ;)