Avoiding a stomach virus while abroad

Living in Asia for many years I have become accustomed to dealing with various viral outbreaks, in part due to our extensive local network.

If you are traveling to SE Asia on business or pleasure you might be unaware of local health conditions and nothing puts a damper on your itinerary like having a stomach virus or food poisoning.

Perhaps you do this already, but other than staying healthy, here are a few of the practices we have to deal with this part of life here.

I don’t get adventurous with food. Many colleagues who travel through China are strongly advised by their employers to eat in the hotel or very expensive restaurants only. Your strict schedule cannot afford you losing opportunities due to illness. When I am traveling I love to sample all kinds of food. Especially low end cafeteria style restaurants or food from street vendors. A stomach virus can be acquired from improper handling of food by those infected as could food poisoning. I’ve suffered many times as a result but I am more cautious when I’m not the one paying for the trip. This applies when traveling with my children as well. The common advice of not drinking the water applies as well. I’ve lived here for over 10 years and I avoid it. Ask for no ice as well (not sure if this is purely an ‘old wives tale).

      I carry a bottle of Purell or equivalent. I’m not fanatical about cleanliness in myself or my children but it’s a useful product to (possibly) kill viruses you might come in contact with your hands. Your hands are one of the primary means of infection and kids always have their hands in their mouth. Naturally soap and water is effective too. It’s not about dirt – it’s about potential a virus.
      Buy medical grade face masks. These are a pretty common sight here in SE Asia as a means of preventing the further spread of a virus. During the SARS outbreak here it was like living in some kind of apocalyptic vision of the future – everyone was wearing them whenever they were out in public. We use them for protection in case of a known outbreak and to help prevent further infection when someone in our family gets sick. It wouldn’t hurt to take one with you if you are traveling in higher risk areas like China (they also provide some protection against airborne pollutants).

Some further reading:
What is viral gastroenteritis?
BRAT diet
What is the best way to treat diarrhea?
Sodium imbalance