Montezuma's revenge is a colloquialism for the diarrhea contracted in Mexico and other Latin American countries by non-locals. The term dates from the conquering of local people by European countries. The diarrhea and discomfort is thought to be the revenge of the local gods that were worshiped prior to Latin American countries becoming Christianized.
Diarrhea is not an infliction by an angry god, however. but the body’s response to bacterial or parasitic agents encountered in water sources and in produce. Gastrointestinal illness can occur not only in Latin American countries, but also in other parts of the developing world where water may not be treated to eliminate amoebas or bacteria that can make people sick. Improper washing of vegetables and fruit can also result in digestive problems.
In many cases, Montezuma's revenge is a transient illness, and the best treatment tends to be taking bismuth sulfate. Children experiencing diarrhea and fever should not be given this medicine as it contains salicylic acids, which could cause the child to develop Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition. If bismuth sulfate does not resolve the condition, and if a fever develops, this may be indication of parasitic or bacterial infection that is not easily destroyed by the body’s natural immunities. In these cases, sufferers may also require antibiotics or anti-parasitic medications to cure the condition.
Diarrhea can frequently be avoided by not consuming untreated water or produce in a region where it occurs. Drinking bottled water, even when brushing the teeth, is recommended to reduce exposure. Mexico, in particular, is known for attractive blended drinks like the margarita, but since the ice may also be made from tap water, such drinks should be avoided.
Since Mexico and parts of Latin America can be extremely warm, it is important for visitors to keep their fluid intake high, especially if they have a case of Montezuma's revenge. Medical experts recommend avoiding beverages containing either alcohol or caffeine. Bottled local sodas that do not contain caffeine are considered safe for consumption, and can make consuming at least six to eight 8-ounce (236.5 ml) glasses of fluids a day a little less of a chore. Drinking a lot of beverages that are high sugar products may fuel diarrhea, however, so if the condition gets worse, switching to bottled water is recommended.
Diarrhea that continues when a traveler has returned home is almost always due to bacterial or parasitic infection. If the illness continues in this manner, or is accompanied by high fever, and/or vomiting, hospitalization, intravenous antibiotics, and intravenous fluids my be needed to prevent severe dehydration.