Parasite. Say the world to any traveller in South East Asia and you’ll get a look of wide-eyed horror. I know, it happens every time I tell this story. When travelling in South East Asia, it’s not uncommon to get a little bit of sickness and/or diarrhoea along the way. Most travellers will experience it when they go to a new country and maybe try some different foods. Some lucky travellers may not experience it at all. But what happens when you get really sick? Unfortunately, I have first-hand knowledge of this, so let me tell you my story…
I was in Kampot when I first started to feel unwell. On Sunday evening I had a couple of stomach cramps but thought they would pass. The following morning the cramps were agonising and I ended up spending the whole day within 5 metres of a toilet. I seriously hoped it would pass and that it was just a 24-hour bug. I was wrong. I’d agreed to meet my friend in Sihanoukville on Tuesday so we could go to Koh Rong together. I took paracetamol and a lot of Imodium and managed to get the 2 hour bus to Sihanoukville.
Once I arrived in Sihanoukville I went for a nap. I woke up because the agonising stomach pains had returned. At this point, I hadn’t been vomiting but I also had no appetite. I hoped that by drinking plenty of water I would stay hydrated and the bug would pass through. On Wednesday evening I started throwing up and it was apparent that I wouldn’t be going to Koh Rong the following day.
Seeking out a doctor
By Thursday afternoon, I was unable to keep any fluids down so decided it was time to see a doctor. I used Google to find out which hospital in the area would be best to visit and got in a tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk driver took me to a dodgy looking surgery and told me that the doctor spoke English. He told me that the hospital I’d asked to go to would make me wait a long time. I told him I didn’t care and that I wanted to go to the hospital I’d originally asked for. I ended up having to shout at him to take me to the hospital which he eventually did.
I got to the CT Clinic and was immediately seen by a nurse who took my temperature and blood pressure. She made notes of all my symptoms then I was seen by a doctor. The doctor said I would be staying overnight as they weren’t sure what was wrong with me.
I was put into a room and put on a saline drip. The staff all spoke English and were very nice. I had some blood taken (turns out they were testing for malaria and dengue) and was told to provide a stool sample (lovely).
On Saturday morning the doctor came to see me and told me that the lab had figured out what was wrong with me – an intestinal parasite! Intestinal amoebiosis to be more precise. I was given two options – take tablets to get rid of it for 7 days, or take one very strong dose and stay in the hospital for an extra day, meaning I’d be better the following day. I opted to take the strong dose. I literally slept all day after I took the tablets.
Well, not home, but leaving the hospital. On Sunday morning I was released after I’d paid my bill. My bill can, fortunately, be claimed back on my travel insurance.
For the next few days, I slept a lot. I think after over a week of barely eating I was exhausted! I was just glad that the stomach cramps had gone because they were truly awful.
Since being in the hospital I’ve definitely been more fussy about what I eat in South East Asia. For a week after being in the hospital I couldn’t eat any fatty, oily, spicy or raw food. Even now, over a month later, my stomach still doesn’t like any amount of spice, whereas before I could have some spicy foods.
I’m also extra paranoid about eating street food, especially if it’s been sitting out.
I was lucky to be able to get good medical care so my experience of being ill in Cambodia is different to so many other travellers.
What You Need to Know About Intestinal Amoebiosis
This particular parasite is contracted through drinking contaminated water, which in the case of South East Asia, happens to be the tap water. Obviously, I haven’t been drinking tap water in South East Asia, so the most likely way I got it, is from raw vegetables contaminated with the parasite. I’d eaten a couple of salads in Phnom Penh, so this seems the most likely way.
Not everyone that gets the parasite will show symptoms. Some people it might not affect and it can pass through unnoticed. Others may be unwell for a couple of days before it passes through. I was unlucky and it managed to latch on to my intestines. If left untreated, it can burrow through your intestines where it will then infect your liver, causing an abscess. It can eventually be fatal.