ibs and third world travel

Would you allow your IBS to prevent foreign travel?
yes - 20.0%
no - 60.0%
depends on the part of the world - 20.0%

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New Member

Date Joined Feb 2006
Total Posts : 4
   Posted 2/11/2006 1:12 PM (GMT -7)   
Hey all, I'm new to this and looking for some advice...
I just graduated college and am set to be embarking to Africa with the Peace Corps, which has been a dream of mine for a long time. Unfortunately, about 2 years ago I was diagnosed with IBS, and am terrified of a flare-up while so far away from home. Here I pretty much have it under control, and I will be getting my medications there, but won't have much control over what I have to eat. Has anyone spent time in the third world or in similar conditions that could give me any advice on how to prevent my IBS from ruling my life?

Regular Member

Date Joined Oct 2005
Total Posts : 51
   Posted 2/11/2006 3:22 PM (GMT -7)   
I have been living in Bolivia for two and 1/2 years, and the first year and 1/2 I was totally fine. I NEVER had IBS before May 2005. Well, in May I got my first 'intestinal infection' and it landed me in the hospital for dehydration. I haven't been the same since. I got 'e-coli' in August, was sent back the states for medical tests in Sept, was diagnosed with C-difficile (antibiotic associated colitis), and I was doing ok (still couldn't go more that 3 weeks without a diarrhea episode, tho) up until 3 weeks ago, when I came down with 'shigella'. I am now trying to get my system back in order once again, am awakened every morning with cramping and D, and praying that I am not permanently damaging my colon. I think I got shigella from a vegetarian wrap that I ate at my favorite coffee shop, but who knows?
My husband and a lot of other people I know have never had problems; I am definitely the most dramatic case and I hate it. I am constantly thinking about going back home and cutting our tour short, but then I'll have a few good days and stop worrying constantly. I also think I am permanently changed and living in the US won't make me better. Something is off in my gut and I have a feeling it will eventually manifest itself as IBD.
The advice I would give you: do not eat anything that you didn't wash or peel yourself. Live on things that are safe: bananas, oranges, canned tuna fish and well cooked meat. Take plenty of any medication you're on, including lots of immodium, metamucil, vitamins, etc. Make sure you will have the ability to seek adequate medical attention in Africa, and have a translator on hand so that you know what the doc tells you. Always wash your hands and keep your nails short so that you don't accidentally ingest someone else's diseases! Make sure you can get 'medically evacuated' to the states if major problems arise. Familiarize yourself with the local hospitals and labs before you actually get sick. Luckily I have a toddler so I'd been to the local clinic several times before I actually got sick.
Don't immediately think that your IBS is acting up - after a day of D and a fever, get your stool (the freshest possible) to the local lab for testing and cultures (cultures take 3 days, so you might have to wait for antibiotic treatment until you know exactly what you have).
I am probably not the rigt person to talk to about advising you to go overseas as I am feeling a bit negative lately since my D has been taking over my life once again! It is exciting to see a new culture and live a new life, and I advise you to follow your dream. Just PLEASE be careful about what you eat, even if it looks absolutely scrumptious and clean. I was advised by a doctor that it is good to take metamucil as it helps pull out toxins in your intestines, so that is another piece of advice. Oh- and bring some acidophilus, too.
Good luck!

Veteran Member

Date Joined Mar 2005
Total Posts : 2486
   Posted 2/11/2006 9:16 PM (GMT -7)   

First of all, good for you for pursuing your dream!  I wouldn't let your IBS stop you for a second!  It might provide some challenges...but what Peace Corps stint would be complete without some of those?

I studied abroad in East Africa for four months when I was 21.  During that time I was somewhat sick for about one month and then violently ill for about month as well.  Prior to traveling in Africa, I was healthy as a horse and my guts were golden. 

I lived with a family at first, before heading into some extremely remote areas.  Obviously, I had some diarrhea for a while; everyone does!  Everyone who travels there, as well as the indigenous people, have diarrhea, so it's nothing to worry about as long as you are keeping yourself hydrated and don't have any other symptoms.  It's annoying, but as long as you are simply running for the "choo" (bathroom) and not doubled over in pain or with fever, you're probably okay and simply adjusting to the new environment.  The biggest thing to pay attention to is the presence of fever; anything higher than 101 and you want to get checked out.

I got my first parasitic infection - Giardia lamblia and Entamoebae histolytica - within about six weeks of being there.  Not the most fun combination.  High fever, profuse diarrhea and vomiting, and nasty stomach cramps.  I was treated with metronidazole (Flagyl) and was fine within a couple of days.  It started cycling, though, as many improperly treated parasitic infections will.  You will be fine for a week or two, then get very sick for a few days, then feel better, then get sick.  If you find this is happening, you could have an infection that's not being treated correctly, or you could be getting re-infected again and again. 

The best thing you can do is to boil all of your water very thoroughly and don't drink a sip of it unless it's been boiled for 20 minutes.  That, above all, will be the key to staying healthy.  Also, m&m's suggestions of buying peel-able fruits/veggies and washing them in boiled water is important.  WASH YOUR HANDS - a lot.  Take probiotics, if you can.  And cross your fingers.  You won't be able to control everything, especially when you are staying with the locals and relying on them for guidance; once in a while you'll be taking risks, but that's part of the experience.  Remember that nearly everyone over there has parasites, and they are generally more than a nuisance than anything else. 

IF you are in East Africa and ever need quality medical care, Nairobi Hospital is the place to go, no doubt.  It is a first-rate medical center!  I had to stay there for a week due to a bizarre viral infection and the care I received was phenomenal, much better than care I've received in the U.S.!

Where in Africa are you going?  I was in Tanzania and Kenya, and it was the most amazing - and challenging - experience of my life.  I have been wanting to go back since the day I left, just over five years ago. 

Veteran Member

Date Joined Jun 2005
Total Posts : 2976
   Posted 2/13/2006 9:49 AM (GMT -7)   
I wouldn't be so worried about my IBS as catching something new to make it worse. 
That said, I did go to live in Ireland for 3.5 months while experiencing random gall bladder attacks.  It's not fun being away from home and alone when you are sick (and I had an unrelenting attack that lasted for 3 weeks while I was there), let me tell you, but it certainly helps when everyone speaks English and good quality care is nearby; it makes you less nervous at the very least.
Personally I would not be interested in living for a time in a developing country, but I would not be so reluctant to visit.  My fiance spent a total of 10 weeks in India last year on business and he only got sick one time, and that was from food poisoning from some Italian food, of all things, that he ate.  But he was also very vigilient about never, ever touching the water.  He had to brush his teeth with bottled water and he was warned to keep his mouth closed when he showered. 
My G.I.'s Nurse Practioner swore by a probiotic called "Culturelle" (OTC).  She said she took it for a week prior to going to Mexico, took it every day while she was there and for a week after she got back (I think she was down there for several weeks on a mission trip) and she said she was the only person in her party that didn't get the runs.  So, that might be something you want to look into.  Lord only knows how you're going to order and get it shipped to Africa, but maybe if you started buying it by the case you could stock up enough to take with you for the duration. 

Veteran Member

Date Joined Jul 2005
Total Posts : 1425
   Posted 2/13/2006 10:11 AM (GMT -7)   
YES... probiotics! Take them religously (you should anyways because you have intestinal problems). Definately look into Culturelle, Primal Defense, Reuteri and there are many others. Just make sure you get a quality brand that guarantees the amount of Colony Forming Units of living bacteria! I perosnally take VSL#3 for Ulcerative Colitis and it does work well to help keep symptoms under control. Probiotic will be your best friend in a thrid world country.

I am going on my honeymoon in May to a resort in Mexico. Usually resorts are very clean and are aware of the ways visitors get sick and usually do their best to eliminate as many offending factors as possible. Of course dont drink the water unless it is bottled etc. But I plan on taking heaps and bounds of probiotics a week leading up to the trip during the trip and a week after the trip!
Is it UC or MC?
Asacol... 2 tabs 2 times daily
Entocort EC 9mg
Rowasa enemas- never really sat well with me
VSL#3 probiotic-1-2 packets a day
Compazine 10 mg as needed
Wellbutrin 150 mg Ativan .5 mg as needed
Officially married!

angry boulder
Regular Member

Date Joined Feb 2006
Total Posts : 126
   Posted 2/13/2006 11:28 AM (GMT -7)   
my advice is to stay from the third world, after i went there and got ill i have never really stopped being ill

New Member

Date Joined Feb 2006
Total Posts : 4
   Posted 2/14/2006 5:53 PM (GMT -7)   
Thanks to everyone for their suggestions...
I hadn't thought of the probiotics, or even heard of acidophilus. Maybe I should post a new topic, but when I was looking for them, I found a vegetarian version as well as a regular version. There didn't seem to be any animal products in the regular version (expect beeswax, which is usually only an issue for vegans). Does anyone know the difference?
Sarita, unfortunately, I do not know where I am going yet. One thing about Peace Corps, they really stress the flexibility issue! I probably won't know what part of Africa until about 1-2 months prior to departure, which is the end of May/beginning of June. I know I will be in Anglophone Africa, but that's all the information I have!
Again, thanks for all the suggestions everyone!

Veteran Member

Date Joined Jun 2005
Total Posts : 2976
   Posted 2/15/2006 10:57 AM (GMT -7)   
Make sure they know that you have stomach problems beforehand so that if you get too sick they can get you out rather than telling you, "That's normal, you'll get over it in a few weeks." It probably won't take as much to set you off as a normal person and you won't get over it as quickly, so you'll have to really keep an eye out on your hydration, vitamin consumption, etc.

I've never seen a vegetarian version of probioitics, but one does have to wonder how they grow the bacteria. They may have to use animal products to setup the culture, but I doubt very seriously that there is anything but the bacteria themselves and some general filler materials--the beeswax--to make up the pill.
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