Food poisoning?

Nov 26th, 2014, 05:28 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 68
Food poisoning?


After getting some great advice on these boards, my friend and I are planning a trip to Playa de Carmen in January. As I do my travel research, I'm noticing a lot of stories of food poisoning. Some veteran travelers write that one should plan for it to happen at least once while in Mexico.

I am concerned about food poisoning because I'm pregnant, and thus would be more strongly affected and can't take the standard treatment of antibiotics. I know that there's a risk of food poisoning anywhere (and have gotten it once in Greece), so I really wouldn't even be worrying about it if not for the pregnancy.

So, is the risk really much higher in Mexico than in the US? Is there any way to avoid it (I read that it can happen at 5-star resorts)? Should I stick to rice, beans, and bottled water only? (Half kidding) Or maybe delay the trip to when I'm not pregnant and can enjoy the food without worrying?
isemida is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 05:57 AM
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I think many people confuse food poisoning with diarrhea...more commonly called "tourista". Tourista is caused by a bacteria in food that our particular system isn't used to. It isn't that the food is necessarily spoiled. Everyone has bacteria in their gut -- ours is just different than the bacteria from other countries. If Mexicans travel to the U.S., they can often get equally as sick.

Some things you can do to make sure you don't get sick:

- drink only bottled water

- be quite careful eating from the all-inclusive resort buffets -- that is where food may sit in the heat too long

- eat only cooked foods or peeled fruits and vegetables

- if you prepare food on your own make sure to rinse it in Microdyne to kill the bacteria on the outer skins

- stay hydrated! Do not sit in the sun and drink alcohol (you wouldn't be doing this while you're pregnant anyhow)

- some people take a Pepto Bismol pill each morning to coat their stomach.

- speak with your doctor before departing to ask what you specifically should do if you contract "tourista".

People can end up quite sick if they ignore the signs of tourista and leave it untreated. You must stay hydrated and get an antibiotic in your system when it first starts. Talk to your doctor about what is o.k. for you.

Congrats on the babe and enjoy your holiday!
TC is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 06:32 AM
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In 26 years I have had "Montezuma's Revenge" exactly three times. Twice it was due to my own inattention.
Once in Manzanillo I absently mindlessly ate a unpeeled cucumber garnish slice. Another in my Zihuatanejo home I failed to properly clean a head of lettuce. The last was this past year I had Paella at a higher end cafe in Oaxaca. The Cucumber & Paella caused me great discomfort for several days. Once I took prescription meds I recovered. The Lettuce incident was the most violent causing me to pass out hitting my head but the shortness of duration. After taking some over the counter meds I was fine in a couple of hours.
So in about 40 trips often for months at a time that's it.
I do not drink alcohol but do eat street food. I always drink bottle water.
Stewbear is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 07:55 AM
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I agree, food poisoning is not as likely as 'Montezuma's Revenge'.

On another note, just how far along will your pregnancy be and have you looked carefully at what your travel insurance will and will not cover in that regard? Read here:
Sojourntraveller is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 08:31 AM
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Food poisoning is not Montezuma's Revenge. Two different things entirely.

Honestly I don't know anyone (including myself in 24 trips) who has gotten food poisoning in Mexico. I have been a bit sick from things I ate, only three times total, and the kind of thing that passed in a few days.

The bad food stories I hear most often come from budget all-inclusive resorts where people are eating buffet meals.

As far as avoiding getting sick... drink bottled water, pay attention to how food is being prepared (fresh, in a busy restaurant or street stand), take care with salads, raw fruits or vegetables.
suze is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 10:28 AM
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I've had food poisoning. If it wasn't, then tell me what it was (no, it wasn't Moctazuma's revenge). And as stated by another poster, it too was due to letting my guard down. After 6 months of living here (Mexico City), and not having gotten sick, I got lazy visually. But I've lived here for a total of 3 years and that was the only time I got sick. Hadn't thought about the cucumber thing and I do eat those from time to time at the taco vendors - good observation. I don't know if you can do this being pregnant, but it's adviseable to get your Hep A, B and typhoid shots before coming to a country like this (how you're not aware of the dangers on this subject, is beyond me). The locals get sick frequently and so it's rather a joke to them. and they don't spend money on vaccinations (many of them probably don't even know they exist).

The general rule for eating on the street (which I didn't see above) is if the vendor is busy, no worries. If there are no customers, think twice. Doesn't mean you're going to get sick or they have unhealthy habits, but... The poster above mentioned Microdyne. Just FYI - this is very easily purchased at any supermarket (if you might need it, maybe you want to google what the packaging looks like first so you know what to look for) and only costs a buck, I think.

I had a student some years ago who got sick (not food poisoning) from fish at a 4 or 5 star resort in Los Cabos. So as the poster above said, it doesn't matter where you eat.
travelinhobo is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 12:23 PM
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Yes always soak any fruit/veggies in Microdyne something I failed to do properly with that lettuce.
Cuckes are fine IF they are peeled.
Human waste is commonly used for fertilizer in Mexico as the fields are often the toilet so important to soak the above.
Stewbear is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 12:25 PM
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PS Do not know why I keep saying 26 years as this year (2015) will be my 29th my first being '86.
Stewbear is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 01:54 PM
Original Poster
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@travelinhobo and other Mexico experts: What is this Hep A/B/typhoid danger, and should I be worried about that too? I did see the vaccinations recommended on the CDC site, but my doctor said not to get them as I'm pregnant.

Anyway, I've read a lot of "I went to Mexico for the weekend and got Moctezuma's Revenge / food poisoning" stories, BUT no "I went to Mexico for the weekend and got hepatitis" stories. So, perhaps inaccurately, I haven't really been worried about those.

And thanks for all the what to eat / what not to eat advice!!!
isemida is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 03:50 PM
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Call it whatever you want, but you don't want to pick up a bacteria or other pathogen that wreaks havoc.

What does your own doctor say?

A friend caught shigellosis in Mexico and believe me, you don't want that.
mlgb is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 03:58 PM
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Montezumas revenge can be and is often associated with food poisoning and is often connected with food poisoning. I am no doctor, but I do know that Montezumas revenge is a form of diarrehae directly related to ingesting contaminated water or poorly washed vegetables and certain milk products. This contaminated water often holds high levels of fecal matter. Fecal matter by the way, is often used in Mexico to fertilize gardens, big or small. For people living there, it has no adverse effect as they have grown immune to the bacteria. For us tourists, it holds a great potential for illness for a period of 3 to 5 days. Who's to say if the substance you ate from a buffet was infected with fecal contamination or chicken that's been in the sun too long. Frankly, I dont care where it's from as long as I dont get it. Yes, as the old saying goes, it's better to be safe than sorry !!!
Rohelio is offline  
Nov 26th, 2014, 07:26 PM
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Here are my personal travel health policies reposted from a previous thread; be sure to check that anything listed here is safe during pregnancy before ingesting - I have not done that. Have a great trip!

:: I tend to follow the advice of the CDC for the country/ies I’m visiting:

:: At least be sure you're up to date on routine vaccines like diphtheria/tetanus and measles/mumps/rubella; many adults in the US aren't and some of those illnesses are horrible and still prevalent in developing countries. In my opinion everyone should have Hep A, too.

:: Keep the bugs from biting by wearing long sleeves/pants during buggy times (usually dusk and dawn), using effective, safe repellent (I like Ultrathon and Sawyer's Controlled Release deet products). You can also buy clothes preloaded with permethrin or buy the sprays and do it yourself; even a bandana is handy this way. I've read that any sort of oil will keep sand flies at bay but we haven't had much problem with them in our travels (pray for a steady breeze!) so can't speak about that personally.

:: I only drink bottled water, never tap (unless I purify it or boil it), even on my toothbrush (good idea to practice this in advance)

:: I wash my hands every chance I get and carry hand sanitizer with me.

:: I avoid fruit I haven't peeled myself unless I trust the preparer (no bags of yummy-looking cut up mangos from street vendors, but usually I've felt ok in homestays)

:: I soak fruit and vegetables I'm preparing myself in microdyne (even if I plan to peel them)

:: I avoid lettuce

:: I only eat street food if it's selling quickly and really hot; most careful folks would say avoid it

:: I take shelf stable probiotics on the road; the one I prefer is here:

:: I take a papain and bromelain digestive enzyme capsule just before or after high protein meals to speed digestion; I don't have a preferred brand but here's a link to some information:

:: When I have a touch of diarrhea, I take 2 or 3 cayenne capsules and repeat every few hours - usually kicks it

:: I carry imodium or the like but rarely need it; it shouldn't be used if you're REALLY sick as it keeps the bad bugs in your system longer (can be really dangerous)

:: I get a prescription filled for the antibiotic Ciproflaxin to carry along in case one of us gets REALLY sick (powerful stuff not to be taken lightly) ; it's usually available without a prescription in Central America.
hopefulist is offline  
Nov 27th, 2014, 04:20 AM
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I confess that I am not nearly as careful about what I eat when I travel to Mexico/Central America. I eat lots and lots of street food. I eat lettuce, I eat salads, I eat unpeeled fruit and vegetables. I do buy chunks of fruit in a cup on the street.

In dozens of trips, I've had some mild diarrhea, never gotten really ill. I do carry Ciproflaxacin.

I do avoid buffets. I simply don't eat at them.

I'm a retired nurse who worked in a Pediatric clinic that did travel medicine. My personal thoughts are that everyone should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, and, probably Hepatitis B.

Hep A is endemic in Mexico and Central America. It's always around. You are only as safe as the personal hygiene of the person serving/preparing your food. It's a killed virus, I would think you could get it while pregnant, but, do check with your physician.

If I was traveling while pregnant, I would be more careful than I am these days. I would avoid fresh fruits and veggies that I didn't peel myself. I would only drink bottled water. Be careful of the limes that come with drinks (though you won't be drinking alcohol, I assume). Don't put the lime slice in your drink.
JeanH is offline  
Nov 27th, 2014, 01:09 PM
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"Anyway, I've read a lot of "I went to Mexico for the weekend and got Moctezuma's Revenge / food poisoning" stories, BUT no "I went to Mexico for the weekend and got hepatitis" stories."

But did you read the 'I went to X while pregnant and got a $1,000,000 hospital bill' stories?
Sojourntraveller is offline  
Nov 27th, 2014, 06:04 PM
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Wow! I can't believe the vast amount of dubious information floating around. NO you do NOT need to get a Hep A/B or typhoid shot to travel to Playa. You are going to a major tourist area not a rural location. You won't be drinking water from a stream. While some will tell horror stories about fertilizer used on fields, just remember most of the produce sold in U.S. super markets comes from Mexico. Honestly, with a few simple precautions you will be fine.

I don't know what Sojourntraveler is talking about. Playa has a very good medical system...much cheaper than the U.S. If you were to have need, there are fine doctors and good facilities.
TC is offline  
Nov 28th, 2014, 01:44 AM
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I lived and traveled extensively in Mexico in the 70s and 80s and although I never had GI issues, it was then common for travelers and foreign residents to contract mild to severe traveler's diarrhea (aka turista, Montezuma's revenge), or food poisoning, or even dysentery. But in the 90s, Mexico cleaned up its act, especially in tourist areas. The infrastructure now is much improved and travelers don't have to be as careful - for example, it's now fine to eat salads or ice in top hotels, restaurants or rental homes with filtered water.

We have been renting villas in beach areas (including near Playa) with a group of 13 people (spanning ages 10-63) for ten years, and nobody in the group has ever had stomach problems. But I have heard that some travel docs advise against Mexican travel for pregnant women. Many still go without incident, but if you think you'll be worried the whole time, maybe you should give it a pass for now. Or you can speak to your OB and get her/his advice.
crosscheck is offline  
Nov 28th, 2014, 08:30 AM
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TC, my point is that there have been horror stories about women going into labour while on vacation and a baby being born prematurely. Almost ALWAYS the baby is not covered by the Mother's travel insurance. The delivery may be covered but the baby's ICU care is not.

Read the link I gave in my first response and you will see where this happened to a Canadian couple who went to Hawaii and have ended up with a $950,000 hospital bill and via another link on that thread you will find an Australian couple who had the same thing happen when on a trip to Canada and ended up with a bill for $700,000. In the case of the Australian couple, the birth was covered but only cost $19,000. The ICU care for the premature baby was $700,000 and NOT covered by travel insurance.

This to me is a big unknown about the financial risk to travelling while pregnant.

Crosscheck, in both cases above, the doctors were happy to say, 'yes, you're ok to fly' but THEY aren't the insurance company and so their advice or 'permission' is meaningless. The question is, IF you deliver prematurely, will your BABY be covered by your insurance or will only YOU (the Mother) be covered? That's where people get the big surprise.

I'm not suggesting the OP not travel and it has nothing to do with Mexico itself, it's about the financial risk if you give birth prematurely. I hope that's clear enough for everyone to understand.
Sojourntraveller is offline  
Nov 28th, 2014, 08:38 AM
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Sojourn, the OP never said she was traveling near her due date. The middle trimester of pregnancy is an excellent time to travel (w/ no issues getting insurance) - if it's your first child, it's the last time you can truly relax for a decade!
crosscheck is offline  
Nov 28th, 2014, 08:54 AM
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Clearly SJT knows less about pregnancy than he does about luggage.

Why not just go to Florida instead?

BTW you shouldn't take Pepto while pregnant.

There is no way to 100% avoid traveler's diarrhea, or whatever you want to call it.
mlgb is offline  
Nov 28th, 2014, 09:58 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,859're examples are fine examples...of how ridiculous information gets amplified and passed around. If the OP is from the U.S. her insurance will be fine in Mexico should she have the need. It will cover whatever it will matter her location. While she may have to pay the bill and be reimbursed for the insured amount, the only thing she'll be out is a bit of time. Why on earth dredge up more hysteria for the lady to worry about? With your "sky is falling" outlook, I'm amazed you travel at all. Maybe you don't. Maybe you just travel vicariously through these boards.
TC is offline  

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