Return to Home Page

May 18, 2012

Studying Stool Samples

The first and only time I’ve had to shit in a cup was at the CIWEC clinic in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was nearly ten years ago and, as a newbie traveler, I didn’t yet have experience with dysentery—the awfulness of things exploding, simultaneously, out of nearly every orifice.  When the friendly doctor asked me to “provide a stool sample,” something clicked in my mind. Of course. That’s how they diagnose these illnesses: they need to examine your turds.

These days I’m no longer an amateur when it comes to stomach bugs, and if I’m traveling to a high-risk place like Nepal or India, I treat my Ciprofloxacin pills with the same care as my passport.  Because the stuff works like magic, and I never, ever want to give another stool sample.

I’ve been so pre-occupied with the fear of shitting in a cup that I haven’t given much thought to the doctors on the other end—the ones who look at what’s inside the cup.  Until recently, that is. I came across a fascinating book, called “Travel Medicine: Tales Behind the Science,” featuring stories from heroic doctors who have dedicated their lives to studying stool samples.

Aside from learning new facts (“a shaken stool sample creates the sound of a marble rolling around”) and that diarrhea doctors have a sense of humor (one sent a crushed Baby Ruth bar mixed with water and red-streaked strips of paper towels to the lab for identification), there are true tales of medical discovery here. Like the story of the doctors at the CIWEC clinic, who, back in the 1980s, repeatedly observed an unidentified particle in patients’ stools that co-occurred with a sudden onset of cramps, diarrhea and nausea, followed by severe anorexia and fatigue. After six years of research, it was determined that they had found “the first new intestinal protozoal pathogen discovered in 70 years,” now known as Cyclospora.

If you’re interested in reading more about traveler’s diarrhea and obscure travel-related illnesses, check out the Journal of Travel Medicine, which publishes six issues a year.  Articles include individual case studies—such as “Leptospirosis in a French Traveler Returning From Mauritius,” “Transient Facial Swellings in a Patient With a Remote African Travel History,” and “Perniosis in a Long-Distance Cyclist Crossing Mongolia”—as well as reports of large-scale surveys, like “Incidence and Impact of Travelers’ Diarrhea Among Foreign Backpackers in Southeast Asia: A Result From Khao San Road, Bangkok.”

My favorite article? The cleverly titled “New England Souvenirs,” which, as you may imagine, does not involve a shot glass embossed with the Boston skyline.

Posted by | Comments (0) 
Category: General

Leave a Reply

Main

Bio

Books

Stories

Essays

Video

Interviews

Events

Writers

Marco

Paris

Vagabonding.net

Contact


Vagabonding Audio Book at Audible.com

Marco Polo Didnt Go There
Rolf's new book!


Vagabonding
   Vagabonding

RECENT COMMENTS

Franca: I totally agree with you, travelling long term can make you feel lonely at...

Roger: I am really annoyed when I hear someone who is very hawkish about American...

Barbara Weibel: Thanks for your comments, Roger and Faith. I absolutely agree that...

Barbara Weibel: Good point, Linda! I hear all the time from Europeans, Asians, Aussies,...

Roger: I would say that most travel warnings are over exaggerated. Unless there is a...

Linda: Are, I wonder, Americans aware of how this works the other way around? I have no...

Faith: Thank you for a very good article! I traveled for 6 months and 9 countries last...

Roger: This is very informative, and mind boggling how few Americans venture abroad....

Roger: Wow, this is good stuff. Simplicity can be such a wonderful tonic. Thank you...

Sage: I like the idea of travel being “monasticism on the move”

SPONSORED BY :



CATEGORIES

TRAVEL LINKS

ARCHIVES

RECENT ENTRIES

Explode your comfort zone…why the decision to travel is never a bad one
Dealing with the Loneliness of Long-Term Travel
How young is too young to travel?
Should terrorism keep Americans from traveling overseas?
The Age of Travel is not over
The difference: Living well vs. Doing well, Part 2
Vagabonding Case Study: The Wagoners
What travel hacking isn’t
Vagabonding Case Study: Behan Gifford
What you see on large news channels is not the only news


Subscribe to this blog's feed
Follow @rolfpotts