Many holidaymakers report incidences of holiday food poisoning at Egypt’s popular holiday resorts, such as Sharm El Sheikh and Luxor or on Nile cruises.
Egyptian tummy as it is sometimes known covers a range of symptoms which usually end in a bout of sickness and diarrhoea, or just a severe bout of travellers’ diarrhoea.
There are many different bacterial and parasitic infections which can result in the symptoms of holiday food poisoning, which is sometimes also called gastroenteritis.
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If undiagnosed and not treated with the appropriate antibiotics, bacterial infections such as salmonella can result in long-term health issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or even recurring episodes of diarrhoea.
The first signs of travellers’ diarrhoea in Egypt are usually headache, fever and stomach cramps, which become worse over the course of a few hours and result in episodes of diarrhoea, often accompanied by vomiting.
There may be blood in the stools or in vomit – and if the symptoms are left untreated or carry on for more than 24 hours, there is a real risk of dehydration, which can cause confused thinking, exhaustion and eventually loss of consciousness or even death in very young children, the elderly or those with an existing medical condition.
The symptoms of some gastrointestinal infections such as salmonella may disappear, only to return weeks later, setting up a cycle of ill health which may mean limiting certain foods such as fruit and vegetables in case they trigger another episode of diarrhoea and stomach cramps.
Painful conditions such as Crohn’s disease and IBS can develop, with blood-streaked mucus and watery stools being passed frequently, causing pain, dehydration and weight loss.
Eating fruit or vegetables washed in Nile water used to be a frequent cause of travellers’ sickness and diarrhoea in Egypt – but even holidaymakers who do not take Nile cruises and who stay at some of the best hotels in Egypt can end up with a bout of Egyptian tummy.
A common source of holiday illness in Egypt is the all inclusive buffet which many hotels offer to holidaymakers – and undercooked or raw meat, chicken and fish can soon mean an outbreak of holiday food poisoning among guests.
Reheated food or chilled foods left to grow warm on the buffet are another source of holiday food poisoning in Egypt – as are dairy products such as milk, eggs and cheese, which might have been contaminated with salmonella, E.coli or campylobacter and have not been stored, cooked or prepared properly.
Cross contamination of serving utensils and dirty cups, plates and glasses are other sources of gastric illness in Egypt – and dirty tables in dining rooms can also harbour bacteria.
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Water in Egypt is not potable – meaning it is not safe to drink from the tap. Holidaymakers to Egypt should only drink water from sealed bottles of mineral water – and never use the communal water jug in a dining room or a drinking fountain.
Washing hands is crucial – and if hotel guests, kitchen staff or chefs at Egypt hotels fail to do this, an outbreak of food poisoning can soon result. Food on buffets accessed by birds, insects and small reptiles like lizards can also soon become infected with salmonella or E.coli.
The hotel swimming pool in Egypt is also another source of infection as the parasitic infection cryptosporidium is carried in animal and human faeces and can be passed in swimming pool water which is not disinfected, or if swimmers do not shower before or after using the hotel pool – or if swimmers who are already ill use the pool.
The currency in Egypt is also another common source of holiday infection – always wash or wipe hands with antibacterial wipes after handling the local currency.
If you are ill with holiday food poisoning in Egypt, it is important to see a doctor or pharmacist and obtain medication to help ease the symptoms.
Egyptians drink karkade – made with hibiscus petals – to ease stomach upsets and you will often see this ruby-coloured drink offered free of charge in hotel foyers. Make sure you only drink from a clean vending machine and use a clean cup.
Drinking plenty of water in Egypt is vital because of the heat – and you should up your intake of liquids such as bottled water even more if you have an upset stomach to help maintain fluid levels in your body and prevent dehydration.
Drinking tea made with ginger can help nausea and stomach cramps – but ginger should not be taken if you are on medications like Warfarin.
Over-the-counter medicines bought in the UK like loperamide and domperidone can ease diarrhoea and vomiting, so holidaymakers should pack these in their holiday first aid kit just in case.
And liquorice is another natural way of preventing nausea and sickness – although may make diarrhoea worse, so use sparingly.
Peppermint in small doses can ease symptoms of sickness – but in large doses peppermint oil can cause vomiting, so use sparingly.
When you feel like eating again, watch your diet and try dry toast, thin tomato soup and freshly-made, well-cooked plain omelettes until you feel better.
When you return home from Egypt, see your GP for a diagnosis of the infection you have been suffering from in Egypt, as you may need antibiotics and further treatment to clear it completely.
The best way of preventing gastric infections in Egypt is to wash your hands frequently and use antibacterial wipes to clean table surfaces, cutlery, the rims of glasses and cups – and loo seats.
Always wash your hands after handling the local currency as this is another common way of picking up a gastrointestinal holiday illness in Egypt – the currency in Egypt is usually old and may be contaminated with bacteria if people do not wash their hands after using the lavatory.
Holidaymakers should also avoid undercooked meat, chicken and fish in Egypt – don’t be afraid to complain if your food is not cooked properly or cold food is left to grow warm and hot food is left to grow cold on the buffet.
Avoid eating unpeeled fruit and vegetables in case they have been washed in contaminated water or Nile water – and also avoid ice cubes, as they might have been made with contaminated or Nile water.
Drink water from sealed bottles of water only and drink at least 1-2 litres of water a day in Egypt – and more if you drink alcohol, as alcohol speeds up dehydration.
Dairy produce can also be infected with salmonella and other bacteria such as E.coli – and if unpasteurised dairy produce is not stored or prepared correctly, even milk in coffee and cream or milk in homemade dairy desserts like mousse or ice cream can cause holiday food poisoning in Egypt.
Also make sure you shower before using the swimming pool – and check the hotel board by the swimming pool which should show when it was last disinfected.
Always report dirty hotel swimming pools in Egypt to your tour rep or the hotel management – and never use the pool if you are ill or allow children with soiled nappies or swimsuits to use the pool. Never soil the pool yourself or vomit in it – if you have an accident, report it immediately so the pool can be cleared and disinfected, or you might cause an outbreak of travellers’ sickness and diarrhoea at the hotel.