Food Poisoning & Food-Borne Diseases
Many people when they travel remember the advice to "not drink the water". But there is also an old dictum in international travel that says, "Peel it, boil it or throw it away." The truth is that disease is more often transmitted through food than through water.
The types of disease caused by food are really quite varied. There is direct poisoning caused by eating poisonous foods such as fish and mushrooms. Then there is food poisoning from bacterial or other toxins (e.g. staphylococcus, ciguatera) or chemical additives within the food. Or the food may be contaminated with bacteria such as cholera, typhoid, salmonella or E. coli, which cause disease after they enter the body. Or it may even contain parasites, which attack the human body. These include tapeworms, flukes, trichinosis, "sushi worms", roundworms and numerous other organisms which can affect virtually any part of the body including the skin, heart, brain, lungs, kidneys and liver in addition to the intestinal tract.
Almost all of these problems can be prevented, however, by basic hand-washing and thorough cooking of food. In any developing country, regardless how clean the surroundings look, raw food should be avoided unless you can peel it yourself with a clean utensil. Meat and fish, especially, should never be eaten raw or partly cooked as they can pass some of the most deadly and devastating disease. And even cooked food should be kept, served and eaten steaming hot and not allowed to sit around to get cool.
For some of these diseases, such as typhoid and cholera, there is some protection available through vaccines. These may be available in either injectable or oral forms. Even these, however, are less than fully effective even though new vaccines are becoming available all the time. At best they may simply reduce the severity of an illness while not completely preventing its occurrence. (A travel medicine specialist will know what is available and advisable for a particular itinerary.)
Digestive diseases such as peptic ulcer, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis may predispose one to food-borne illness because of diminished protective mechanisms. Gastric acid is an essential protective agent against many invading organisms, so anything that reduces gastric acidity-antacids, H2 blockers, achlorhydria, stomach surgery-should inspire the traveler to be even more careful with food safety.
Because food-borne diseases can affect almost any body system, there is no standard treatment available. Just standard prevention-BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU EAT!