Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a parasite and subsequent food poisoning — get the wrong one, and you might spend the entire trip feeling sick. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to prevent getting infected by parasites.
With a few simple tips, you can stay healthy and enjoy your trip.
Know the risks
The first step in staying parasite-free is to research your location. Before you leave, spend a little time looking into the cities and countries you plan to visit. Are any of them known for specific parasites? If you’re going to Mexico, for example, you’ll find warnings about the tap water. In many cases, a quick Google search can help you find the right information; try searching “[Country name] + health risks”. When you know what you’re up against, it’s easier to avoid it.
Stick to bottled water
In many parts of the world, the tap water is unsafe to drink. This is particularly true in developing countries, where the purification process simply isn’t adequate. It’s never a good idea to drink the tap water in Mexico, for example, as well as many places in Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America. In the United States, Australia, and Western Europe, the water is generally safe.
How can you avoid potential parasites? Always drink bottled water, even when you’re in restaurants. It’s also a good idea to use bottled water when you’re brushing your teeth. If you’re traveling in places where bottled water is scarce, consider taking a water-purifying bottle along on your trip. One surprising culprit? The shower. Take care to keep your mouth closed when you’re showering, as water can easily get in. If you’re not sure about the safety of the local water, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Peel your own fruits and veggies
When you’re exploring a new country, it’s tempting to buy peeled, sliced fruits and veggies from stalls in the street. Although they might look delicious, these snacks can be riddled with parasites. Usually, the culprit is water — if the fruits were washed in the local water, they can be holding on to the dangerous bacteria. You can still sample the local snacks, however; just buy them whole, and peel them yourself. This extra step is a bit of a pain, but it can save you days of intense stomach pain.
In general, I tend to stay away from soft skinned fruits like apples, and pears opting for fruits like pineapples, watermelons, bananas, and mangoes. I also tend to avoid raw vegetable salads and preferring it to be cooked all the way through.
Choose street food wisely
Eating street food is one of the great joys of traveling — it gives you a peek into the culture, and allows you to eat with locals. Plus it is just really good food like the hawker stalls in Singapore. However, choose the wrong stand, and you could end up with some serious stomach distress. In many cases, parasites in street food happen when the ingredients are sitting out for too long, or if they’re improperly stored.
Your best bet? Choose stands with long lines of locals. When the residents of the area feel that a stall is safe, it’s a good sign. Plus, when a stand is serving a constant stream of people, you know that the food isn’t sitting for too long. When in doubt, always opt for a food that’s cooked as you wait. The high heat of cooking kills many bacteria and parasites, so you’re less likely to get sick.
Wash your hands frequently
One of the best ways to prevent parasites is to wash your hands regularly while you travel. As you move through public spaces, you touch a huge variety of surfaces, from handrails on the escalator to poles on the train. Bacteria can be lurking in all of these spaces — and if they come into contact with your mouth, they can enter your body without you knowing. The solution is simple; wash your hands often, especially before you eat. For situations when you can’t find a bathroom (or soap), bring along hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes to clean your skin.
Consider avoiding meat
In some parts of the world, meat-storage standards are a bit different from what you experience at home. Raw meats are often stored out in the open, without the refrigeration they need to stave off flies, bacteria, and parasites. The easiest way to steer clear of these dangerous germs is to steer clear of meat. After all, a few days or weeks without meat is a small price to pay for a happy, healthy stomach on your vacation.
Not sure whether or not to avoid meat? Keep an eye out as you’re riding in taxis and buses. If you see stands on the side of the road with raw meat hanging in the breeze, it’s probably a good idea not to eat it.
Read restaurant reviews
Parasites don’t only come from street food stands — you can also get them from restaurants. To decrease your chances, it’s helpful to read through the reviews for a restaurant online before you visit. If someone gets sick from a restaurant, you can bet they’ll leave a review! Even a single mention of food poisoning is a warning sign; it’s better to steer clear of that restaurant. Of course, the most recent reviews are the best indicators, but a pattern of complaints in older reviews can also be a red flag.
Steer clear of animals
Sure, the street dogs in India might be cute — but they can also be carrying some dangerous parasites. The same goes for farm animals and all wildlife. The animals themselves can be hosts for the parasites; if they’ve come into contact with fecal matter, the risk is even higher. Your best bet is to avoid contact with animals and wildlife when you travel.
Unless it’s a house pet, the risk is simply too great. Monkeys, in particular, are a danger. If the monkey touches, scratches, or bites you, it can transmit parasites that are tough to shake. If you’re in a place where monkeys come close to tourists, it’s a good idea not to get too close.
Do a post-trip parasite cleanse
No matter how cautious you are, parasites can still get into your system. To catch any that managed to slip in, it’s helpful to do a cleanse when you get home. Natural cleansing can help rid your body of any dangerous parasites, so it’s easier to avoid infections and illnesses.
Just be sure to steer clear of sugar after you’re done; parasites feed on it. In the article “13 (+1) Benefits of Natural Parasite Cleansing (and some hockey)”, Dr. Todd Watts says that until the parasite exits, you’ll have to read the labels of everything you eat to avoid hidden sources of sugar. Jarred pasta sauces, granola bars, and yogurt can have surprising amounts of sweeteners in them. After the cleanse makes its way through your body, you can go back to your normal diet.
When you’re traveling, a parasite infection is the last thing you want. At a minimum, it can cause you gastrointestinal distress; at worse, it can land you in the hospital. By taking a few precautionary steps, you can keep your system clean and stay parasite-free, even when you’re traveling in developing countries. Most preventative actions are easy to do, so you can maintain your health without disrupting your vacation.
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