Staying healthy

A dream holiday can be totally ruined if illness strikes. Egypt is quite famed for “Pharaoh’s revenge” or whatever other cute name there is for or vomiting and diarrhoea, a really unpleasant and debilitating way to spend a few days of your holiday.

Follow a few simple guidelines and you can really hope to avoid this common problem. This is your most likely possible problem, unless you are unlucky enough to catch a cold or flu bug. Heat exhaustion, dehydration or sunburn are other possibilities, especially in Upper Egypt or on the beach.

Disclaimer here: Obviously we are not doctors, this is just experience talking. Pharmacists in Egypt are more like doctors and hand out medications for many illnesses over the counter including antibiotics. Have a talk to a pharmacist if you are worried about anything as a first step and read the leaflets for any medications. Find a doctor or visit the emergency department of a hospital if you are really concerned about any problem.

The most common cause of acute diarrhoea is infection–viral, bacterial, and parasitic. Bacteria also can cause acute food poisoning. A third important cause of acute diarrhoea is starting a new medication.

Symptoms of viral gastroenteritis (nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhoea) typically last only 48-72 hrs. Unlike bacterial infection of the small intestine and colon, people with viral gastroenteritis usually do not have blood in their stools and have little if any fever.

There’s a whole disease actually called traveller’s diarrhoea and it is usually is caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria or, less commonly, with parasites or viruses. It’s often experienced by people travelling from temperate climates to hot ones and onset can be exacerbated by not drinking enough water. If you get it, you’re in a BIG club – it’s estimated about 10 million people a year experience this unpleasant if relatively short lived problem.

The treatment of travellers’ diarrhoea is usually plenty of liquids as well as over-the-counter medications that control diarrhoea and cramps. In Egypt the local magic worker is called Antinal and I would recommend you buying some as soon as you get to Egypt and having it on hand just in case. Usually it will clear up the problem is 12-24 hours. However if you have a fever it’s a good idea to seek further advice as more treatment might be needed.


Prevention for travellers’ diarrhoea is available but is not recommended generally, unless you have some underlying illness or condition that would make you more susceptible to severe diarrhoea.

1. Water

I don’t think there’s any doubt that new travellers to Egypt really shouldn’t drink the water, and should even take care cleaning teeth, eating foods washed in water, eating ice etc. Bottled water is easy and cheap to buy, and if you’re on a tour your bus driver will even most likely have some aboard the bus. Some people advise that after a few days you are acclimated and can safely drink the water but I think it is better to be safe than sorry. There’s no doubt a case of upset stomach can really ruin your trip. However you do it, make sure you drink plenty of water at all times of the year.

2. Food

Take care with salads that are likely washed in tap water. Eating local foods at places like a koshery is quite safe. Just use common sense as you would at home. Eat somewhere that seems busy (so there’s a high turnover of food and it’s not days old) and the food fresh. If it’s popular with the locals it’s probably good. In fact you should try the local food to add to your Egyptian experience. It’s best to eat your food fresh and hot, not food that’s been kept lukewarm for hours.

Egyptian notes and coins

Egyptian notes and coins

3. Money

One of the ways you can pick up a bug in Egypt is from the money believe it or not – it’s been everywhere as you might imagine! It’s a good idea to make sure you wash your hands after handling money and before you eat or put your hands anywhere near your mouth. In fact I usually carry a pack of antibacterial wipes and right before eating – after paying, pulling out the chair etc. etc., – clean my hands.

4. The sun

Take good precautions from the sun when you’re in Egypt – it’s very easy to get burned and dehydrated (if you’ve developed a headache and feel tired there’s a good chance you’re dehydrated). Do all the smart things – slip, slop, slap as the Aussies say – slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat! AND drink LOTS of water!

Hurghada beach

Hurghada beach. Shot by Espen Birkelund.


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