Bali Belly – a real life Horror Story
Can you imagine my shock when what I thought was a harmless little fart turned into an unstoppable flood of runny poo? It happened on our walk back up the hill to our driver and his car at Padang Padang beach. And while the Gods shone their light on me with a public toilet less than 100 metres away, the panic didn’t stop there.
NO TOILET PAPER.
Nothing but a bucket of dirty water to flush the toilet with, and an impulsive four-year-old waiting for me outside the toilet door. The only thing to do was stagger to the car to get the half-a-toilet-roll I’d stashed in my backpack that morning, and waddle back to clean myself up without too many people noticing my predicament. Horror of horrors!
The diagnosis was Bali Belly, that revolting illness that gives you serious tummy cramping pain and diarrhoea, and can lead to dehydration. Some call it Travellers Diarrhoea but it goes under the name Montezuma’s Revenge, Delhi Belly, Peru Poops, Tourist Trot, and the Jamaican Runs too.
This kind of explosive runny poo combined with hard-core tummy pain is the number one fear of family travellers.
No-one wants their family vacation ruined by an unfortunate case of the poo horrors, especially when you are bound to the confines of the hotel room with little kids, or when dehydration becomes a real thing.
In countries like Bali, finding a clean western toilet that the kids will actually use is also hard enough at the best of times but when Bali Belly threatens, finding a clean toilet becomes a matter of life or death (especially for mums and dads!)
Hot tip: This is why we travel with a spare pair or two of disposable pull-up pants for the kids in the suitcase. These things can be a lifesaver, long after your kids are toilet trained, especially if you’ve got to catch a plane when Bali Belly hits.
What causes Bali Belly?
This information is given as a guide only. Consult your doctor before leaving Australia if you have any concerns.
Bali Belly is caused by improper hygiene and a lack of environmental sanitation. These circumstances allow harmful bacterias such as E. Coli to spread. Travellers can get Bali Belly by ingesting unhygienic food, exchanging money, and from eating undercooked or raw food or salads that have been washed with contaminated water. Drinking, or swimming in, contaminated water can also lead to Bali Belly if water gets into the mouth or nose. Harmful bacterias enter your digestive system by these means, and set off a chain reaction.
Travelling with kids, there’s two extra issues to deal with.
The first one is that many (most?) young babies, toddlers and some preschoolers have a tendency to touch EVERYTHING in their sight. Then at some point, they put those hands and fingers into or near their mouths. Even the most diligent parent can’t always find hand-sanitiser or get to a hand washing basin in time.
The second one is that it’s really, really difficult for toddlers, preschoolers and even some older children to have a shower or bath without getting any water in their mouths. It’s also a bit tricky for kids (and adults) to remember to use bottled water to brush their teeth every single time, especially when their habit is to simply turn on the tap and brush their teeth over the sink.
It’s wise then, to take a first aid kit (see below) just in case anyone in the family is struck down with Bali Belly.
Bali Belly Symptoms
The symptoms of Bali Belly vary from person to person but generally include:
- Abdominal bloating, cramps and pain.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Urgency/frequency in going to the toilet.
- Mild temperature.
- General malaise (weakness or discomfort)
- If you or your children pass blood with the diarrhoea, or have bad stomach cramps or a fever above 38C, DO NOT take any anti diarrhoea medication. See a doctor immediately.
How long does Bali Belly last?
Bali Belly usually lasts between one to five days, with loose watery stools and mild stomach cramping usually improving by the second day. Some people experience a slight rise in temperature, nausea, or vomiting. But in general, other than ‘cramping’ your holiday style, most people find their body is good at overcoming this illness quite quickly without much intervention. Prevention is way better than cure though.
How to avoid Bali Belly
Bali Belly prevention is the key to avoiding Bali Belly. These tips are not 100% foolproof BUT they will definitely put you and your kids on the right track to prevent Bali Belly.
1. Washing hands before and after every meal is key. (If you can’t wash them, use hand sanitiser). Remind your kids often
2. Washing hands after using the toilet is important too, of course.
3. Boil tap water for at least 10 minutes before drinking it. If you can’t do that, drink bottled water only.
4. It’s safe to enjoy hot drinks such as tea and coffee, and drink pre-packaged drinks such as bottles and cans of soft drink, fruit teas etc, but wipe down the bottle and the lid before you do. (Only buy drinks from a refrigerated cabinet, not from an esky where the drinks may been sitting in non-hygienic ice)
5. Avoid salads that may have been washed in contaminated water.
6. Always peel your own fruit (or wash it in bottled water)
7. Look at the state of the restaurant before entering – if it’s busy (especially with other tourists), and the staff and surrounds are clean, it’s likely to a good place to eat.
8. Ask for referrals from your friends and family as to the best places to eat in Bali.
9. Only eat fresh, hot food. If it’s lukewarm, send it back. Don’t risk it.
10. If it looks dodgy, don’t eat it.
11. Avoid seafood entirely.
12. Brush your teeth with bottled water only.
13. Keep your mouth closed when showering. For kids under 8, we recommend the bath only. Remind the kids NOT to drink the water.
14. Many frequent travellers to Bali recommend drinking a Yakult every morning, and swear by Pocari Sweat or Mizone sports water drinks for rehydration.
15. Buy a few travel-sized bottles of hand sanitiser. Thankyou have a Antibacterial Lemon & Lime Hand Sanitiser with Aloe Vera & Vitamin E. It’s fairly natural and smells better than other brands we’ve used too.
You can’t go wrong with this bit of advice: “Boil it, cook it, peel it, open the bottle yourself… or forget it”
The burning question – Is it safe to have ice in my drinks in Bali?
For years, the basic advice in Bali has been to refuse ice in drinks, as the ice may have been made with contaminated water.
However, it’s now law in Bali that hotels and restaurants must use hygienic ice cubes so if you are eating at a well-known restaurant or chain such as McDonalds or Bubba Gumps, or staying in an established hotel, it’s fine to take ice in your drinks.
We suggest avoiding ice in warungs, roadside stalls, and those popular pop-up “bars on the beach”.
Buy your bottled drinks from refrigerated cabinets only. Never drink from a bottle that has been cooling in an ice box – that ice is highly likely to be unhygienic.
Is Bali Belly contagious?
To be on the safe side, assume yes. Be very careful when cleaning up after children’s vomit and diarrhoea to avoid being the next one struck down. Wash your hands with hand sanitiser regularly.
Bali Belly Prevention Medication
We pack a fairly substantial first aid kit of medicines for Bali (and other hot, humid or populated places like it, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, India, Peru, and South America where the language barrier, and proximity to a good doctor or hospital may not be the same as home).
When in Bali, we drink a Yakult probiotic everyday as a Bali Belly preventative. Find them in the local minimarts and supermarkets.
We also take ONE or the other of the natural medicines listed below in our Bali First Aid Kit. We start taking the tablets three days BEFORE we arrive in Bali to lay the foundation of gut health.
- Travelan – Travelan is a clinically proven natural medicine that adults take with meals to help PREVENT Bali Belly. Travelan is not indicated for use in children under 6 years of age except on professional health advice however the active ingredient has been approved for use in children over the age of 12 months. If you choose to use it with young children, Travelan suggests breaking the tablet in half or give it as a powder. Travelan must be taken before EVERY meal,
- Ethical Nutrients “Travel Bug” – This natural medicine reduces the risk of diarrhoea and relieves/treats diarrhoea in both adults, and children from 3 months old when travelling. Store it in the hotel or villa fridge. Travel Bug is taken once a day.
How to get rid of Bali Belly – the Bali Belly cure for kids and adults.
The best Bali Belly cure is rest and rehydration. But no-one wants to waste a day or two laid up in their hotel room or villa when there’s adventures to be had, so it’s time to bring out our list of the top Bali Belly remedies we’ve found.
- Sip lukewarm herbal teas such as Ginger, Camomile, or Peppermint tea. Avoid milk in tea.
- Drink bottled water. Maintaining your fluid intake is vital.
- Put a packet of Rehydration Tablets in your first aid kit- it’s essential. We take Apple Blackcurrant Hydralyte Electrolyte Oral Rehydration Tablets with us. These are scientifically formulated to replace water and electrolytes lost due to vomiting, diarrhoea, heavy sweating, and vigorous exercise. Drink this as soon as possible to reduce the chance of dehydration.
- In Bali, you can also buy isotonic sports drinks like Gatorade or Pocari Sweat from the local convenience stores (Circle K, Alfamart, Indomaret, or the bigger supermarkets such as Carrefour or Bintang.)
- Homeopathic remedies may be your only alternative for vomiting children under 12, and stomach pain in children under 6. We carry a Homeopathic First Aid kit everywhere just in case and use the appropriate remedies.
- Adults can take medication to relieve vomiting and diarrhoea. See our Bali Belly first aid checklist below.
- A popular remedy for locals and expats in Bali is to take Norit Activated Charcoal tablets as a remedy for diarrhoea and food poisoning. They can be found in most minimarts and also at the apotek (pharmacy). Activated charcoal tablets are a natural product that absorb toxic substances in the gastrointestinal tract. Normal dosage is six to nine tablets taken three times a day.
For kids (and adults too), it’s time to go back to the BRAT diet – that’s basically Bananas, Rice (plain white or brown), Applesauce, Toast. It’s a well-known remedy for dodgy tummies. Dry toast with a scrap of butter is a cure-all and something we still remember from childhood.
You can also add:
- Breads – specifically plain toasted breads
- White potato
- Flat lemonade
- Ginger candies
Stay away from all other dairy products, street food, and fruits including peaches, pears, prunes, plums, apricots, and stone fruits.
After a bout of Bali Belly, the best cure is to eat plain and simple for the rest of your trip.
Roam the Gnome’s Bali Belly First Aid Kit – the List of Things to Take to Bali
**Always seek medical advice from your doctor before taking any new medication**
Our first aid kit for Bali Belly that we bring from home includes these products. Click on any of the blue links below to buy direct from Amcal now:
- Apple Blackcurrant Hydralyte Electrolyte Oral Rehydration Tablets
- Kids Strawberry Flavoured Panadol or Nurofen
- Buscopan for relief from cramping pain – for adults and children over 6 only. Read the safety leaflet before use.
- Mintec Peppermint Oil Capsules for natural relief from cramping pains – for adults only. Not recommended for children
- Imodium or Lomotil – for diarrhoea in adults and children over 12 years
- Chamomilla homeopathic pistules for digestive and stomach upsets and diarrhoea. Safe for adults and children.
- Nux vomica homeopathic pistules for nausea, vomiting, and travel sickness. Safe for adults and children.
Chemists in Bali
In Bali, there are two main chemists. Guardian pharmacies can be found in the major towns and tourist areas. Kimia Pharma is the other chemist chain. But you can find Balinese chemists (drugstore, pharmacies, ‘apotek’) all over the place. Common medicines and remedies for Bali Belly can also be found in or near the large supermarkets such as Bintang, Carrefour, and Matahari.
When in doubt, see a doctor
If you or your children do not seem to be getting better within a day or two, or you have concerns, see a doctor at the local BIMC hospital. It’s where the expats go when they need to see a doctor as it has a reputation for being clean and professional. Both the BIMC hospitals and the International SOS clinic are western owned and operated, and are well located for access from Kuta, Nusa Dua and Sanur.
Here is the list of hospitals recommended by the Australian Consulate too.
Bali Belly After Returning Home
If you experience Bali Belly diarrhoea for the first time after you return home, or it continues, see your doctor. Be sure to tell them you recently returned from Bali, and ask them to organise tests. Your doctor will identify the cause of the illness and provide you with appropriate treatment.
Looking for More Things to Do in Bali with Kids?
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