A Trip To Remember

NDSU Microbiology
by NDSU Microbiology

Guest Blogger, Thai Dong, VMS Undergrad

May, June, July, August and September are the most enjoyable months of the year – and not just for me, but for most people, too. They are the months for the outdoors, sports, flowers, fruits, festivals and warm weather. The thing I obsess about and look forward to most during summertime is the street foods (truck foods, festival foods, etc.). All the junk, the grilled or even fried street foods, somehow tastes way better and is more addictive than the same food that can be found easily in any restaurant throughout the year.

I never miss any chance to get street foods, even during my travels to different countries and different continents...until that one trip to Mexico.

It was just a regular, hot summer when I first travelled to Mexico City. As usual, I treated myself with all the delicious street foods from all the food stands in downtown, but one thing was different after this feast…I ended up in the local hospital Emergency Room.

That night, after a long day of traveling and eating, while resting in the hotel, my body felt very malaise, and I suddenly felt the urgency to go to the toilet. According to the doctor, I got a thing known
as Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD), a most common illness affecting a large number of international travelers, and the primary source of infection is ingestion of contaminated food or water. Street food is my daily meal during the summer, so as a street-food lover, I was shocked.

Infectious agents are the primary cause of TD. And the most common causative agent isolated in countries surveyed has been enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). ETEC, a bacterium that normally lives in the intestines of humans and other animals, is harmless but some can cause illness. This specific type of E. coli is the one that produces a special toxin, which stimulates the lining of the intestines causing them to secrete excessive fluid and produce diarrhea.

TD is rarely life-threatening or long lasting. Some infections may take a week or longer to resolve, but most patients recover within a week and without any hospitalization or antibiotics; the treatment is just simply keeping your body fully hydrated by drinking more water.

Although in the moment, TD felt like a nightmare, I will never stop enjoying the foods I have enjoyed all my life. People might say the best way to minimize the risk for TD is by avoiding eating foods purchased from street vendors, but that is no threat to me. A couple days of diarrhea is totally not worth giving up my lifetime favorite foods.

I admit that I am a risk taker, but the worst case scenario is that I will have to conquer the pain and consume more water to keep my body from dehydration. To fully enjoy my life, I'm willing to take that risk.

E. coli Image: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

This entry is part of the MICR 354 (Scientific Writing) student-blog series.