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  • Writer's pictureAnna Genders

Bali Belly....'the runs' down!

So what exactly is Bali Belly? In a nutshell ‘Bali Belly’ is the name given for an upset stomach, ‘traveller´s diarrhea’ or gastroenteritis which is caught on the Island of Bali.

This can occur for so many reasons and I want to clear up a few misconceptions that seems to get thrown around so easily. The general feeling of ‘unwell’ can occur for so many reasons and in so many cases, it seems that people are quick to jump to the conclusion that they have eaten something off from a local eatery. Before we jump to blaming these cafes or restaurants, let’s try and understand exactly the background of what we are dealing with.

Firstly……you’re in a third world country when you arrive in Bali. Things are so different. The weather is different, and I can tell you just the humidity sometimes is enough to make you feel a bit flat and unwell (often up to 90% in the wetter months). The food is different and can contain so many different flavours and spices that your stomach is just not used to. There are germs and bacteria in Bali that you have also never been exposed to. People that get sick or “Bali Belly’ whilst visiting the island (or any other 3rd world country for that fact) generally are newbies to the island or location. Those who have been to Bali a multitude of times will generally find that after being exposed to these factors on more than occasion, their bodies become pretty tolerant.

Bali Belly can be caused by bacteria found in local foods or drinking water, although it is most commonly caused by an increase in exotic foods, too much food and an increase in alcohol consumption. Bali Belly is treatable and will usually clear itself up within 24 hours, although sometimes it can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week to fully clear your system.

It’s also really important to not discount the effects of dodgy local alcohol in Bali and all other third world countries visited. It’s also very easy to blame “Bali Belly” or some local Nasi Goreng from a Warung for the violent vomiting and horrific symptoms caused by methanol poisoning. This is far more common that people realise, so please be careful if you are drinking any spirits that you have not brought over duty-free with you. I can promise you that the spirits that the bars and beach clubs are using on your drinks are NOT Imported and what you are used to! Please refer to a previous post about the dangers of spirits in Bali for more information

The results of Bali Belly generally will leave you finding yourself going to the toilet more than usual to empty both ends and not much of what you consume stays inside for long. In many cases, the bugs just want to get out what it is being irritated by, so you’ll find that you’ll most likely feel well again without having to go seeking treatments. The most important thing to be conscious of when dealing with an illness that causes vomiting and diarrhoea is to keep the fluids constant. If you aren’t able to keep fluids, in, then it is likely worth a visit to the closest medical centre for an anti-nausea injection and some assistance with re-hydration.

The most common symptoms of Bali Belly are:

+ Abdominal bloating, cramps and pain

+ Nausea and/or vomiting

+ Urgency/frequency in going to the toilet

+ Body Sweats

+ Diarrhoea

+ Mild temperature

+ General sense of weakness or discomfort

Gradually moderating the changes you make to your diet and lifestyle, particularly in the first few days of your Bali holiday will help to minimise the risk of contracting Bali Belly.'s hot! So keep the fluid intake constant and high! Personal hygiene is also an important factor and hand washing should be done thoroughly, particularly after going to the toilet, handling money and before you eat. Drinking bottled water will minimise your risks of contracting Bali Belly as well as taking daily acidophilus tablets as an extra preventative. If your symptoms persist for more than a week, the infection may become contagious, so interactions with others should also considered. So as long as you are sensible about where you eat, what you eat, water intake and personal hygiene, you should minimise your risk of getting Bali Belly.

Without letting any of the below overtake the enjoyment of your holiday, please just be mindful of ways that you can limit the possibility of being struck down;

+ Only drink bottled or filtered water. You should also brush your teeth with bottled water and avoid getting it in your mouth in the shower. Even if the locals drink the water, your digestive system is not used to the new bacteria.

+ Ask for drinks without ice. Ice is often made with tap water.

+ Make sure your tea, coffee, or juices are made with bottled or boiled water.

+ Many street vendors will serve up food and drinks on freshly washed plates and cups. Make sure they’re completely dry before using them.

+ Be cautious about where you get your fruit and vegetables from. Make sure to wash them with bottled or boiled water.

+ Be vigilant about washing your hands and using a hand sanitiser.

+ Peeled and pre-cut fruits might look tempting but they can also make you sick. Buy whole fruits and cut them up yourself.

+ Avoid eating raw, rare or uncooked meat in developing countries.

+ Don’t eat food at room temperature, food that has been sitting in the sun or food from buffets.

+ Avoid unpasteurised dairy products, shaved ice or mobile soft-serve vendors.

+ Eat at popular restaurants with a high turnover. This means the food will be fresh and not pre-cooked.

If you do happen to contract Bali Belly, simply try and relax and consume as much water as you can. Otherwise you may need to visit a doctor to receive an injection and some medication which should start to clear up the infection within 24 hours. Other ways of treating the condition include anti-diarrhoea medications such as Imodium and Loperomide and activated charcoal tablets which are available from most supermarkets. Norit Activated Charcoal tablets are small affordable tablets(about $2 a packet) which can be found at many minimarts and also at the Apotek (pharmacy). It's a good idea to get some if you start feeling like something may not be quote right!. I tend to buy some as soon as I arrive in Bali and then use them on a daily basis even if I don’t have any symptoms that require attention. I actually use these as a bit of a preventative for any Bali tummy issues. Activated charcoal tablets absorb toxic substances in the gastrointestinal tract, making it the go-to remedy for diarrhoea, indigestion and food poisoning. Rumour has it that they are also a pretty good aid for a nasty hangover! It's also a natural product so it's even safe for children to use. Six to nine tablets can be taken three times a day for mild diarrhoea (with or without cramping) while for more severe cases of food poisoning from contaminated meat or fish for example, up to 20 tablets can be taken. If symptoms still persist then it's important to get yourself to a doctor or hospital and try and keep hydrated.

Please make sure that you that if you ever have doubts or questions that are health related, you seek advice from a medical professional. Anna x

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