Travel Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for road warriors and seasoned travelers. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Montezuma's revenge, Aztec two step, mummy's tummy, or Cairo two-step in Egypt, Kurtz Hurtz in Uzbekistan, Bombay belly or Delhi belly in India.

A case of the sh-- or Hershey Squirts or The McSh-- in North America, Down Under Butt Chunder in Australia, Karachi crouch in Pakistan, Suryavarman's Revenge in Cambodia.

Kabulitis in Afghanistan, holiday tummy in United Kingdom, Bali belly in Bali, or Taghazout Tummy in Taghazout or Kathmandu quickstep in Nepal.

Beaver fever in Canada, Thailand it's Thai-dal wave. Peacekeepers to Arabic-speaking countries have called it yalla yalla (Arabic for "fast, fast").

In Central Asia, it was ridiculous, with every second backpacker walking around with toilet paper on them, regularly having to make a 'run' for it. In Egypt, half my tour group got sick, by the time we'd converted into a mobile pharmacy!

Regardless of what it's called, what's the best way to try and prevent it?

share|improve this question
Umm, don't eat bad food! – hippietrail Oct 3 '11 at 20:04
I don't want to see the Google Image Search results if I look up "gastrointeritis prophylactic". – hippietrail Oct 3 '11 at 21:25
Especially if you turn off the SafeSearch ;) – RoflcoptrException Oct 4 '11 at 8:09
Also see Is tea and coffee on the street safe to drink in India? - much of the advice here applies here too as "Delhi belly" is often caused by suspect fluids than anything else. – Ankur Banerjee Oct 4 '11 at 8:45
I added the food and drink tag because you generally only contract gastro by ingesting tainted food etc. – hippietrail Oct 4 '11 at 11:38
up vote 49 down vote accepted

Basically, you can't.

The world is full of GI diseases, even in developed, First World nations. There are some decent steps to trying to minimize your exposure:

  1. Properly cooked foods. Everything heated to a proper internal temperature (depends on the dish, check the USDA's site for guidelines), no sampling the raw chicken dish, etc.
  2. For fruits and veg, if you can't peel it, don't eat it. A tremendous number of GI outbreaks are due to fruit and veg, rather than meat. This includes things like salads - since you can't really peel lettuce, avoid it.
  3. Check if the local water is safe. When in doubt, assume it isn't. You can stick to bottled water, though there's always the distinct chance its being bottled from a contaminated source. Coke/Pepsi etc., and beer are good alternatives. Little known fact, the Coca-Cola company is hugely involved in clean water programs worldwide, because they need it for their product.
  4. Ice. Ice is bad. Its probably made using the local tap-water, and there are many beasties that can survive an encounter with an ice machine.

But when it comes down to it, nearly every traveller makes some sort of safe-eating "mistake" fairly frequently, whether they realize it or not. At the end of the day, your best bet is to talk to your travel physician, and see if you can get a prescription for an antibiotic. Using that in combination with something like Imodium will probably keep your trip mostly on track - shutting down the problem long enough for the antibiotics to treat the source. Unless of course its viral - norovirus, rotavirus etc. In that event, best of luck.

And if it does happen? Stay hydrated. You're losing salts and water, they need to be replaced.

share|improve this answer
The whole reason the Chinese drink so much tea is because the water is unsafe for drinking, and boiling the water sterilizes it. This is even in the better-developed parts, such as Hong Kong. One time I made the mistake of using tap water to take an aspirin for a headache, and then very soon I had TWO problems. – fluffy Oct 3 '11 at 22:06
+1 for the ice! Especially careful in bars. – Pitt Nov 30 '12 at 17:17
Okay point for taking along antibiotics, but if you take those you should most definitely take some packs of electrolyte salts which you can mix in water in order to keep hydrated. And very important too is to make sure to take pro-biotic medicine after the misery is over, otherwise your stomach will have a hard time getting back in shape and it's even easier to have "yalla yalla" again (or any other illness in fact). – Pitt Nov 30 '12 at 17:20
First thing in the morning it can be easy to overlook caution when cleaning teeth. – pnuts Mar 18 '15 at 17:48
@pnuts: That's how I got it in Egypt, I was careful to only drink bottled water but figured the small amount of water used to wet my toothbrush couldn't hurt. Learnt my lesson! – Pyritie Jun 26 '15 at 12:00

Some elementary precautions:

  1. Drink no water or other liquid unless it has been boiled or bottled or canned. Be careful using ice; it may have been made from tap water.

  2. Avoid eating at roadside food stands; sanitation levels are low. Avoid eating any place where there is evidence of poor sanitation, e.g. flies. Stick with the better restaurants, or with "home cooked" food.

  3. Don't eat anything that hasn't been cooked or peeled immediately prior to eating. That includes bread, unless it is fresh bread, or just unwrapped.

  4. Be careful with utensils. Wash them in boiled, or at least very hot water.

  5. Carry pills for dysentery and similar ailments.

share|improve this answer

Specifically related to Egypt (but may be relevant in other countries):

I was told by an Egyptian tour guide that one of the things that causes illness amongst British tourists is the richness of the food especially fats/oils and sugar content as this is much higher then we are used to. So his advice was to avoid all Egyptian food and stick to plain 'western' foods if at all possible.

Obviously tap water is to be avoided but having said that a (British) friend of mine worked out in Cairo for several years and claimed that he could drink the water!

share|improve this answer
If richness of food is to be incriminated, Delhi belly would be present at a high level in the USA. – mouviciel Oct 5 '11 at 7:48
You will often find travellers that have remained in the location for a while (and locals) can drink the water with no problem, because after their initial encounter their bodies and immune system have adjusted to the local environment; so just being told by locals the water is fine is not reason enough to trust it; if your visit is short and it is not worth suffering a night to adjust, better to stick to bottles. – moonshadow Feb 4 '13 at 19:40

My friend and doctor also told me to take some malt liquor (eg. vodka or whisky) with me and have a shot after a meal. It's supposed to help you also with digesting as well as prevent some "stomach sensations".

share|improve this answer
It generally is a good thing =) – Alessandro Da Rugna Mar 17 at 11:35

To memorize and teach it (your kids etc.):

Wash it, peel it, cook it, or forget it.

You have been warned about ice made from tap water. You will often find yourself in situations where "coke" is understood, "no ice" is not. Learn these 2 words in the language of the country you board.

share|improve this answer

I would add:- sterilize your hands frequently and always before eating. If you distrust the water, use an alcohol gel.

share|improve this answer

One of:

  1. Peel it

  2. Boil it

  3. Throw it away

Only drink bottled water that has a seal on the cap (they can refill the bottles). Bring hand sanitizer (with a high alcohol content).

share|improve this answer
And always crush the bottle before throwing away. This helps in preventing refilling of the bottle. Just my 2 cents. – noob Jul 30 '14 at 5:16
+1 for saying to check the seal. I've seen street vendors in India openly refilling water bottles from a tap. – Richard Smith Nov 1 '15 at 20:09

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.