Delhi Belly

Now don’t get me wrong, its not a phenomenon which is unique to India and it doesn’t affect all travellers (although it does with all the ones I know) but it is just unfortunate that its got a catchy name when in India and that it does seem to be more regular there than anywhere else…  I am of course talking about the intestinal turmoil that is Delhi Belly!

To put it bluntly it is a sudden onset feeling which stays with you for days and sometimes leaves you terrified of the thought of leaving your hotel room – especially if you’re not used to using a “traditional toilet”.  According to Wikipedia it is defined as 3 or more unformed stools passed by a traveller within a 24 hr period…  When I had it I would say it was more like 3 in a 1 hr period!

Dude, I grew up in India, an entire subcontinent where cows walk in the street, and nobody has ever had a solid bowel movement! – Kunal Nayyar as Rajesh Koothrappali (The Big Bang Theory)

However as funny as it sounds (if its someone else who has it), it causes a huge amount of pain, crams bloating and also nausea (don’t think you’ll always get away with sitting on the toilet without a bin in front of you too).  In 80% of cases it is caused by ecoli and as such is a fairly serious infection and if it continues for more than a couple of days (or even earlier if you feel you need to) it is time to call out the doctor!  Also if you have a fever as well don’t automatically dismiss it as Delhi Belly as this is something you shouldn’t usually have with this infection, and may point to something more serious!

There are a number of different ways you can get afflicted with this:


Drinking water from the tap is one of the main reasons for getting this problem, and in India I would even recommend using bottled water for brushing your teeth.  This also includes ice cubes, and as hot as it may be out there don’t get lulled in to thinking they look great…  they are made with tap water!  So ask for your drinks without ice.  Also don’t be fooled in to thinking that your bottled water will be fine.  Try where ever you can to buy it in a shop where you can inspect it…  In restaurants they will sometimes bring already open bottles – do not drink these as there is a good chance that they are just re-filled empty bottles:



You are best off sticking to cooked food, because as you guessed, salads are usually washed in tap water, however even then be careful to make sure that the food is cooked well and hot when served so that you can know it has been cooked fresh.  If possible it is also good if you use a restaurant where you can see the kitchen – restaurants and especially street food vendors are not always the most hygienic and this is of course the main spreading method for ecoli.

Wash Your Hands:

This should apply anywhere but always wash your hands before you do anything near your mouth with your hands or anything which might go near your mouth to ensure you do not spread ecoli picked up from surfaces.  This includes but is not limited to eating, drinking and smoking.  In this case you don’t need to worry so much about using tap water to clean your hands as long as you wash with soap!

As a result of this common travel affliction I would recommend a few essential India travel items:

  • Antibacterial hand wash
  • Antacids
  • Diarrhoea relief pills
  • Electrolyte solution powder
  • Extra toilet paper when travelling around

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