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Montezuma's Revenge Symptoms & Avoidance Tips

Updated on December 6, 2011

It seems impossible to have a conversation about a trip to Mexico with a bunch of friends without enduring at least one reference to Montezuma’s Revenge- the ever-so-dreaded bout of gastrointestinal discomfort so often associated imbibing the country’s untreated tap water.

As it happens, Mexico is not the only country in which travelers get hit with... er... toilet problems. Montezuma’s Revenge is really just a localized name for a broader, international condition referred to as traveler’s diarrhea.

Traveler’s diarrhea affects anywhere between 20 to 50 percent of international travelers- that’s roughly 10 million people every year, so if you do get Montezumas Revenge, you’re in good (and by no means scant) company. In addition to enjoying safety in numbers, you should also know that, should you be smote down by this less-than-dignified blight, you’ll hardly be down for the count. Traveler’s diarrhea really isn’t so bad. Let’s have a look at common symptoms and causes of this jet-set malady. If you stay with me long enough, I’ll even share some convenient avoidance tips. Tallyho!

Other Funny Names for TD

  • Montezuma's Revenge
  • Turistas
  • Pharo's Revenge
  • Mummy's tummy
  • Cairo two-step
  • Aztec two-step
  • Delhi Belly

BEWARE THE CURSE OF MONTEZUMA II!
BEWARE THE CURSE OF MONTEZUMA II!

Montezuma's Revenge Symptoms

You know you have traveler’s diarrhea when you have:

  • Had three or more...
  • unformed stools (hehee! Stools!)
  • … within a 24 hour period

Now that’s not so bad, is it?

Other symptoms accompanying this basic qualifying requirement may include:

  • Bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • A low fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • General malaise
  • Diarrhea (that’s like... “unformed stools” in NINJA form!
  • The urgent need to run to the bathroom

I know this sounds pretty gnarly, but to be perfectly honest with you (and to share far too much information), I’ve had traveler’s diarrhea TONS of times and have’t even realized it! I just thought poo was always funny-looking in China. Kind of like how the water supposedly flushes in a different direction in Australia. Sometimes stuff comes out funny. Sometimes you’re a little bloated. Who cares? YOU’RE ON AN ADVENTURE FOR THE LOVE OF BLOG!

Don't drink it, dude.
Don't drink it, dude.

Common Causes of Traveler's Diarrhea

So... what causes this charming condition? You’ll wish you hadn’t asked! Traveler’s diarrhea is usually caused by ingesting or drinking fecally (that means POO!!) contaminated food or water. This is why traveler’s diarrhea is more common in developing country, where water treatment plants aren’t so crazy advanced.

Now poo itself is gross, but it’s really the wee creatures living inside it that cause you to toot in an undignified manner. The most common culprit are bacteria (especially e. coli and salmonella), but viruses and even protozoans are known to get you better acquainted with the Throne while on the road.

Montezuma is COMING FOR YOU, GRINGOS!!!
Montezuma is COMING FOR YOU, GRINGOS!!!

Why Aren't Locals Affected?

You might feel as though Montezuma’s Revenge is, like, totallyunfair because the locals are drinking the water and appear to be totally fine. Well, you would be totally fine, too, had you grown up in the area. You see, folks who find themselves ingesting bacterially-infected water year after year end up building up some decent defenses. You, Mr. Fancy Tourist Man, having grown up on Fancy Clean Water, don’t have these defenses. So it’s unformed stools for you, all the way!

BEER! THE SAFE CHOICE!
BEER! THE SAFE CHOICE!

How to Avoid Montezuma's Revenge

Even though the symptoms of Traveler’s Diahhrea are not so bad, you probably want to avoid it if at all possible. I guess that’s understandable. Here’s what you can do:

  • Only drink bottled water (if you don’t have access to bottled water, you’ll need to boil water for 3-5 minutes, filter water with chlorine bleach, or iodine, or use UV purification device)
  • Don’t drink shower water
  • Don’t get pool, cenote, or ocean water in your mouth
  • Brush your teeth with bottled water (this is for those who really want to be on the conservative side. I never do this, but many of my buddies do)
  • Only eat cooked food
  • Avoid raw fruits or veggies unless you peel them yourself
  • Avoid salads- even if they’ve been properly cleaned, they’re kind of gross because you can taste the detergent used to clean them

Are YOU in Club TD?

Have you suffered from traveler's diarrhea before?

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If You Get Traveler's Diarrhea...

… DON’T PANIC! It’s fine. It happens all the time. Just... keep somewhat close to a toilet, stay plenty hydrated (with bottled water), and take comfort in the knowledge that the discomfort will pass in three to five days.

WARNING - You may have something WORSE than traveler’s diarrhea if...

  • Diarrhea with blood int it
  • An abundance of diarrhea with flecks of mucus (gross to the power of OMG)
  • Abdominal pain
  • High fever
  • Shaking or chills
  • Diahhrea for more than 72 hours
  • Rapid onset of malaise and weakness

If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms, GO SEE A DOCTOR FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! It could be cholera. Cholera could leave you dead in as soon as 24 hours as a result of severe dehydration. It could also be amoebic dysentery, Giardia, a parasitic infection, or helminths. None of these things are good news, and unlike traveler’s diarrhea, probably won’t pass by on their own.

My "Hilarious" Story

WARNING: STOP READING IF YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF TO BE “POLITE COMPANY”

For example, I was once traveling in China when I was hit by a particularly... colorful bout of traveler’s diarrhea. I thought that was bad enough, but when I want to flush the toilet in my hotel room, the darn thing rebelled against me and OVERFLOWED! There was TD water alllll over the bathroom floor. Isn’t travel glamorous?

Bon Voyage!

I hope this overview of Montezuma’s Revenge and traveler’s diarrhea has made you less afraid of the condition, and more willing to take an adventurous jump south of the border- and to third world countries everywhere!

As you can see, it is fairly easy to avoid contracting this unfortunate malady, and even if you do fall pray to the odd bacterium, it won’t be too terrible, plus you’re hardly the only one to be getting your money’s worth of hotel and restaurant toilets.

Besides... sometimes traveler’s diarrhea can result in some hilarious stories!

Do you have a funny traveler’s diarrhea story? SHARE IT IN THE COMMENTS! Life is too short to be proper and non-gross.

And happy traveling!!

Share your traveler's diarrhea horror stories!

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    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Well, when you put it that way...

    • stugod profile image

      Stuart Goddard 

      6 years ago from Bradford

      Never ceases to amaze me how unimaginative Americans are. When you go for your daily swim in Crete just get your ablutions over with at the same time.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the comments, y'all!

      I must say, Peter Allison, shooting gringos is one of my favorite pastimes.

      Thanks princesswithapen! Fiascos like the one I experienced in that bathroom in China are more bearable if they can be laughed at as soon as possible. Even when they're happening, I keep in mind that, at the very least, they make for funny stories.

      LOL Emerald Strachan! You've discovered the tried and true traveling method of my beloved parents! They've not gotten sick yet, so it TOTALLY works.

      Hahaa, sounds like your ma's got your back, Wesman Todd Shaw!!

      As for Crete, stugod, I think you've just convinced me to move it to the bottom of my travel bucket list....

      Yikes, sounds like you got hit in the worst way possible, robie2! I'm glad you ended up OK in the end! What an experience @_@

      I'm so glad you've been able to travel unscathed, mandymoreno81!

      You totally know what you're doing, ktrapp! Though the bus ride sounds kind of brutal!!

      And dang marshacanada, it sounds like you've built up some sort of immunity... or perhaps the world really IS cleaning up its act!

    • marshacanada profile image

      marshacanada 

      6 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks for this good hub. I used to get terrible turista in India,Mexico,Middle East,Asia etc. Now I dont ever seem to get sick and I travel to all the same out of the way places. Maybe I am way more careful now, or maybe the world is cleaning up its act.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      When we went to Puerto Vallarta a few years ago one of our first tourist stops was to buy a case of water at Walmart. The real adventure was the bus ride on cobbled stone roads to get there. But once we had our bottled water we were ready to enjoy our trip TD-free.

      Love the video -- I wonder what your hub crush thinks. HaHa.

      ~voted up and funny~ (probably the only person that can make this topic funny)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Oh yes-- MOntezuma's revenge aka the Aztec two step. I remember it well from my student days in Mexico City many moons ago. I was running at both ends and throwing up bile.... MOntezuma's revenge is much more than the ordinary traveler's tummy I can assure you-- the good news is that a visit to a doctor who shot me full of anti biotics fixed me right up. I was thinking that if you followed raw salad with beer the alcohol in the beer would kill the germs-- turns out I was wrong so post MOntezuma I stopped eating raw greens and unpeeled fruit in Mexico :-) voted up for originality:-)

    • stugod profile image

      Stuart Goddard 

      6 years ago from Bradford

      I find I am immune to most of these bugs. However the toilets in Crete are some thing else. The poopy paper is put in a bin at the side of the pot. But the rest is left to meander down to . Well wherever. Don't let that put you off Crete as it is a beautiful place. And has a good prevailing wind which keeps things tolerable. To be honest I always get a scooter or a Harley Davidson and ride all day during daylight hours. No need to explain where I spend the nights. Cheers

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I can't remember the year, but I'd say that it was around 1994; and it was Winter break from school at the community college.

      Here in Kaufman, Texas - I've lots of Mexican American friends; and the closest friend and his family were going to Monterrey.

      I was living or staying at my parent's house....and just up and told them,

      "Yo, I'ma going to Mexico...tomorrow. Where's my birth certificate?"

      Last thing my momma said the next day as I went out the door was, "DON'T DRINK THE WATER!!!!!!!"

      I think you know the rest of the story, but Monterrey Mexico is a beautiful city!!!

    • profile image

      Emerald Strachan 

      6 years ago

      I heard that the water in Mexico is the worst, that's why "Monk" brought his own....lol. Sometimes you can't even trust the bottled water because the local get the empty bottles and refill them with the fecally contaminated water anyway, so liquor up on beer!

    • danielleantosz profile image

      danielleantosz 

      6 years ago from Florida

      amusing hub on a sorta serious topic. :)

    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      hi simone hilarious hub!! would not want to be a part of such situation though, it wont be anywhere near to hilarious!!

      -carrie

    • princesswithapen profile image

      princesswithapen 

      6 years ago

      Simone

      Your story about the overflowing toilet in China was hilarious. Although I bet it didn't seem too funny at that time. Diarrhea is often termed as 'a traveller's worst enemy' A bad bout of diarrhea can confine someone to a hotel room for days together. Top that off with other complications like you mentioned - blood, mucus, etc can totally ruin a holiday. This advice is helpful for all travellers. Nicely done.

      Princesswithapen

    • Peter Allison profile image

      Peter Allison 

      6 years ago from Alameda, CA

      OMG this is hilarious - I love how you go from silly to serious! Your advice on eating in 'generally clean places' is brilliantly understated, and I love the picture of the Gringos! Some really good advice though. Thanks for posting!

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