The Jakarta Belly Syndrome

A few days ago, as I was in the clinic practicing like usual when a patient of mine – Priti – walked in and said, “I think I have Jakarta Belly Syndrome.” It took me a while before I broke into laughter realising what she meant. Jakarta Belly Syndrome is a syndrome where an expat “suddenly” develops a bout of vomiting or diarrhoea accompanied with excruciating cramps and abdominal pain, and not forgetting the occasional bouts of passing excessive gas. In other words it is an infection of the digestive system.

Many expats just arriving find themselves in a state of shock. The horrendous traffic together with the problem of adjusting can lead to anxiety, depression or near insanity. Not forgetting the fact that their intestines are not adapted to the food in Jakarta. Although the culinary experience in Jakarta can be heavenly, its hygiene is not always guaranteed. The Jakarta Belly Syndrome can be caused by a number of organisms and its toxins. Most often it is due to a viral infection or a toxin induced infection. The next common cause is bacteria and the least most common cause is parasite-like amoeba or worms. Here are some tips to prevent yourselves from getting Jakarta Belly Syndrome:

1. Ensure that you wash your hands before a meal – Jakarta is a place where everybody is very courteous. Shaking of hands and hugging are common gestures of courtesy. Remember the most important route of transmission of organisms is the Feaco-Oral route. Ensure that you wash your hands with an antiseptic soap.

2. Say “No” if you are not sure – Everyone who complains of diarrhoea or vomiting can pinpoint the offending food and all of them knew they shouldn’t have eaten the food. If you are suspicious of a particular item, however delicious it is, it’s better that you put it aside and choose a more hygienic one.

3. Guard your house – A study in America has shown that the most common source of infection is within the house. The refrigerator in your house is the melting pot of the food that you eat. Ensure that your refrigerator is clean. Remove all expired products and meat. Ensure that no liquid from the top shelf is dripping to the shelves below.

4. Say “No” to road-side food – Eating road side food is a common practice. Remember as expats your tummy is not accustomed to the bacteria that may be present in these foods. Always eat food that is steaming hot. Do not even think of putting anything in your mouth if it is at room temperature.

5. Vegetables – Buy your vegetables from a reliable source and make sure you wash it properly before cooking it or putting it in your salad.

Follow these few simple tips to decrease your chance of getting the Jakarta Belly. Jakarta is a difficult place as it is. It would be a more difficult place if you are stuck in traffic and you are struck by the Jakarta Belly Syndrome.

If you have any health concerns please visit us at Global Assistance Medical Centre.

For appointments call +62 21 29978988.

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Dr. Madan M. Vasandani has been practicing family medicine in Jakarta and Bangalore, India since he gained his degree in 2004 from the medical faculty of Manipal University, Manipal-India. He gained valuable experience during his 2 year residency in Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital, Jakarta. In addition to being co-founder and Head Family Practitioner at Centrepoint Healthcare, he currently holds the post of Chief Medical Officer at Global Assistance where he has worked for 4 years. He is fluent in English and Indonesian, and keeps abreast of medical research, is especially interested in Pediatrics and Cardiology and has a vast network of high quality, reputable local and international specialist referral.


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