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Attack of the amoebas

December 11, 2012

To provide a complete account of our trip we should include the bad along with the good, so here's a brief account of our ongoing battles with amoebas while we've been away.  Despite our best attempts to avoid ingesting contaminated food or water, somewhere along the way we managed to pick up some microscopic parasitic amoebas.  We've all been sick from this at various times over the past few months, although not enough to seriously disrupt our trip.

While Tanya and Sierra managed to fight off the amoebas by themselves, Bethany and I haven't been so lucky.  While we were in San Antonio by Lake Atitlan, Bethany wasn't doing so well.  The people at the hotel where we were staying took us an American surgeon who lives nearby.  He referred us to a colleague at the hospital where he volunteers who specializes in intestinal problems.  He was able to prescribe medication for Bethany that seems to have done the trick.

I was fine until we got to Nebaj, when I went downhill quickly.  We managed to find a good doctor in town who tried to fix me up with various medications.  Although I felt a little better after a few days the stomach pains soon returned, so I returned to a second doctor for a round of alternative meds.  This managed to keep me going for a little longer, but when we got to Flores I started feeling rough again.  So, now I've seen a third doctor (in San Ignacio, Belize this time) and I'm on yet a new cocktail of meds (I think I've taken ten different drugs now).  Apparently part of the problem is that the meds I took previously were probably getting rid of the live amoebas but were not killing the eggs, so the cycle would just start over again after a few days (eeuw!).  Hopefully I'll be all good again soon.

While on this trip we've tried to take all the recommended precautions - drinking only purified water, avoiding uncooked salads in restaurants, etc.  As a result of our amoeba encounters we've even started to soak all our raw fruits and vegetables in a biocide solution.  But on a trip of this length in countries where the water is not safe for us to drink, it was always unlikely that we'd manage to make it through the entire six months scot-free.  A restaurant might generally use safe food handling techniques, but even a single drop of water on the dish they use to serve your food can make you sick.  Similarly, a juice bar might use purified water to make its smoothies, but the blender might be rinsed with plain old tap water in between uses.  Or, an avocado might seem perfectly safe to eat since only the inside flesh is eaten, but when you cut it in half you could transfer contaminants from the outside of the skin into the flesh.  And although the high-priced tourist restaurants might appear to have more stringent food safety standards than the cheaper local restaurants, that need not necessarily be the case.  Besides, trying out local restaurants is a part of our trip we don't want to miss out on.  All we can do is strive to reach a good balance between staying as safe as we can while also enjoying as many local food experiences as possible.