|IS IT REALLY
MOCTEZUMA THAT GETS REVENGE?
One of the proverbial
concerns of tourists traveling to Mexico is getting sick while on
vacation. And they should be concerned, for 20 to 50 percent of
travelers to Mexico get Moctezuma's Revenge (MR), according to a recent
study by the Office of Medical Applications of Research.
The leading cause of
discomfort, Escherichia coli, otherwise known as E. coli
bacteria, can be injested in drink as well as food. While many attacks
are blamed on unpurified water, just as many are caused by ineffectual
I've traveled to Mexico
many times in the last 17 years and have contracted every bug the
country has to offer. After a while, I realized there had to be a way of
avoiding digestive diorders while there. So I began asking Mexicans that
I met what they would recommend.
What Mexicans Say
Al G. Cardena, owner and operator of Chee Chee's Restaurant and Big Al
Tours in Puerto Vallarta told me, "One reason tourists sometimes
get sick is they have the attitude, 'Let's do whatever we want, let's
have a great time,' and they overdo it. They try to do too much at
He went on to say,
"Spices are different here, and tourists aren't used to the many
kinds of chiles we have. Tequila in the States isn't as strong as it is
in Mexico. Many people don't even drink tequila back home. The speed at
which we drink in Mexico is slower, and so is the pace. Visitors often
drink at the speed they're used to back home, not realizing the heat can
I've learned that
abstaining from any purely Mexican food, as well as abstaining from
eating any tropical fruit for twenty-four hours helps my digestive
system get acclimated. Papaya fruit and juice are especially bad and
should be avoided for a couple of days.
Arturo Melgoza, manager
of a large Mexico City hotel, recommended, "Stay away from fancy
drinks and rich foods for the first few days. If you have to drink,
Mexican beers and wines are best, served cold without ice. I find that
there isn't as much of a problem in Mexico City as in the beach resorts
where guests drink margaritas in the hot sun by the pool all day.
One of the best
ways to prevent MR was told to me by Marita Adair, a friend and fellow
writer from Texas. "Several years ago, I began to take acidophilus
(the bacteria in yogurt) tablets several days before going to Mexico.
This seems to build up the bacteria in my digestive tract and helps
prevent or at least lessen the effects of Moctezuma's Revenge."
Some Common Remedies
Acidophilus is available in capsule and chewable tablet form at all
health-food stores, drug stores and supermarkets. Taking it has no other
effect but to balance your digestive tract. If MR should strike, it can
be taken as many times as you need to in order to build up the bacteria.
Even the Mexicans agree
that one of the best solutions to MR is common Pepto Bismol (bismuth
subsalicylate), either in liquid or tablet form. However, recent tests
have shown that there can be severe side effects if this medication is
taken too often. Another product, Imodium D, seems to work better and
faster, without the accompanying side effects.
Episodes of MR begin
abruptly, often without warning. They can occur during travel as well as
after returning home and are not contagious. It's slightly more common
in young adults rather than older people. The reason for this is
unclear, but may be because of a lack of acquired immunity, more
adventurous lifestyles, and different eating and drinking habits. Attack
rates are similar in men and women. The most common day of onset is the
third day after arrival in Mexico, but onset may occur at any time
during the visit, and even after returning home.
Both cooked and uncooked
foods may be implicated if improperly handled. Especially risky foods
include raw vegetables, raw meat and raw seafood. Tap water, ice,
unpasteurized milk and dairy products, and unpeeled fruits are also
associated with an increased risk of MR. Bottled, carbonated beverages,
especially flavored ones, beer, wine, hot coffee or tea are safe.
Infectious agents are the
primary cause of MR. Once they're in the digestive tract and depending
on how long the victim goes without treatment, the effects can be
Another long-time friend
of mine, Carlos Hampe, director of the Mexico Travel Board office in
Vancouver, advised, "I recommend taking Bactrim (an antibiotic)
when the symptoms become severe. I believe overindulgence in our food
has a lot to do with it."
Dolores Lopez Lira,
another long-time friend and resident of Cancun, said, "We don't
have a problem with water pollution here since all of our water comes
from deep wells or is desalinated. Too many tourists come here and do
everything they don't do at home, including drinking too much, dancing
all night and eating rich foods."
My years of travel to Mexico has taught me a lot about MR. When it does
strike, I head for the nearest First Class pharmacy, with a pharmacist
who speaks English, or with a Mexican friend to interpret for me. This
is no time to practice my Spanish. One of the best local medicines I
have found is a green chalky liquid sold under the name of Diarim.
In all my years of
traveling, my doctor, who's gotten used to treating me for exotic
diseases, has told me time and again to let MR take its course so that I
develop an immunity. This advice has certainly worked for me. Now, I
seldom get sick in Mexico, and, if I do, I know it had to be from bad
Mexican doctors also have
told me to avoid getting dehydrated. Chicken broth or soup, as well as
beer, contain enough salt to alleviate the problem while fighting MR.
I drink only purified
water. Several years ago, the Mexican Congress passed a law requiring
purified water for everyone. Now, travelers can buy bottled water just
about anywhere, even in smallest tienda (shop). At nearly the
same time, the Mexican Congress passed a national hygiene act, which
requires all larger restaurants to adhere to strict standards for food
handling. Food service workers in resort hotels now all must wear masks
and protective head gear. And inspectors visit restaurant kitchens
When I'm in doubt, I ask
for aqua minerale. This applies not only to drinking but to
brushing my teeth and rinsing my contact lenses. Those pesky bacteria
can get in just about anywhere.
I also wash my hands as
often as possible, and especially before meals. Germs can be transmitted
from all sorts of things, even paper currency. I learned this the hard
way on a trip to Peru, where I contacted amebic dysentery.
Lastly, one of the foods
to be especially careful of in Mexico is chicken. Often Mexican
chickens, which are the free-ranging variety, contract a virus. Usually,
this happens in June and July in the warmer locales. At that time, I
avoid eating chicken. An attack of salmonellae gastroenteritis has
taught me otherwise.
It doesn't pay to get
paranoid about getting MR. A little common sense goes a long way.