Food- or Water-Borne Diseases
While relatively few visitors to Argentina run into problems of this sort, contaminated food and drink are not unheard of. In many cases, it’s simply exposure to different sorts of bugs to which your body soon becomes accustomed, but if symptoms persist, the problem may be more serious.
Colloquially known as turista, the classic traveler’s diarrhea (TD) usually lasts just a few days and almost always less than a week. Besides “the runs,” symptoms include nausea, vomiting, bloating, and general weakness. The usual cause is the Escherichia coli bacterium from contaminated food or water; in rare cases E. coli infections can be fatal.
Fluids, including fruit juices, and small amounts of bland foods such as freshly cooked rice or soda crackers may relieve symptoms and help regain strength. Dehydration can be a serious problem, especially for children, who may need to be treated with an oral rehydration solution (ORS) of carbohydrates and salt.
Over-the-counter remedies like Pepto-Bismol, Lomotil, and Immodium may relieve symptoms but can also cause problems. Prescription drugs such as doxycyline and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole can also shorten the cycle. These may not be suitable for children, and it’s better for everyone to avoid them if at all possible.
Continuing and worsening symptoms, including bloody stools, may mean dysentery, a much more serious ailment requiring a physician’s attention.
Bacterial dysentery, resembling a more intense form of TD, responds to antibiotics, but amoebic dysentery is far more serious, sometimes leading to intestinal perforation, peritonitis, and liver abscesses. Like diarrhea, its symptoms include soft and even bloody stools, but some people may be asymptomatic even as they pass on Entamoeba hystolica through unsanitary toilet and food-preparation practices. Metronidazole, known by the brand names Flagyl or Protostat, is an effective treatment, but a physician’s diagnosis is advisable.
Resulting from poor hygiene, inadequate sewage disposal, and contaminated food, modern cholera is less devastating than its historic antecedents, which produced rapid dehydration, watery diarrhea, and imminent death without almost equally rapid rehydration. While today’s cholera strains are highly infectious, most carriers do not even come down with symptoms. Existing vaccinations are ineffective, so health authorities now recommend against them.
Treatment can only relieve symptoms. On average, about five percent of victims die, but those who recover are immune. It’s not a common problem in Argentina, but it’s not unheard of either, especially in northern subtropical areas.
Usually passed by fecal-oral contact under poor hygiene and overcrowding, hepatitis A is a virus. The traditional gamma globulin prophylaxis has limited efficacy and wears off in just a few months. New hepatitis A vaccines, though, are more effective and last longer.
Typhoid is a serious disease common under unsanitary conditions, but the recommended vaccination is an effective prophylaxis.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition