TRUE STORY:    In 2007 I was an avid runner, and an avid traveler. I took care to eat clean, keep my hands sanitized, and didn’t rub my eyes with a shirt sleeve. By my estimation this was the healthiest and strongest time of my life.

One day, half way into my usual 5 mile loop through the forest, my body suddenly shut down. My legs refused to run. I thought it was fatigue from pressing myself a little too hard, so I walked back home and lied down on the sofa. For the next six months I hardly moved.

My insurance company nearly cut me off after months of tests because the doctors were coming up blank. They couldn’t explain the fatigue, weight loss, monster headaches and random pain throughout my body. My speech became impaired, and trying to type a simple sentence made me seem dyslexic.

It was awful. I thought I was finished.

Five months into this I hired a highly touted travel medicine specialist in Denver. Her broad spectrum stool analysis uncovered the massive colonies of parasites. They were literally traveling through my body eating me alive, feasting on my calf one day and my brain the next.

The side effects of powerhouse antibiotics were almost unbearable to live with, but after two very nasty two week regimens I was declared a no parasite zone. Honestly, I’ve never fully recovered. My running days reverted to long brisk walks and my mental clarity was whittled down by 10 or 15 percent.

What caused the raid on my entire body was never precisely determined. That particular breed of monster could have been sitting on a raw oyster I ate in Costa Rica, or snuck under a toenail during a barefoot walk on a Cuban beach. It might have been lurking in the leaves of a Belizian salad or bred in the hydration pack I always kept nearby in Colorado, but rarely chlorinated. 

There’s no reason to become a paranoid germaphobe, that’s creepy, but it’s wise to better understand how to keep yourself protected from these diabolical cannibals.

Here’s a solid tip (pun intended) to help keep your guard up: Dr. Jane Wilson-Haworth has written the definitive guide for staying clean.

In her well written easy-to-understand book, Shitting Pretty: How to Stay Clean and Healthy While Traveling she reveals everything you need to know about keeping a stiff arm in the face of nasty bacteria and parasites.

One of her memorable mottos about eating food while on the road in places of questionable cleanliness:

“Cook it, Peel it, Boil it, or Forget it.” 

Montezuma’s revenge isn’t exclusive to Mexican taco stands, raw oysters, or walks on the beach. Parasites are everywhere. 

TO PROVE THE POINT:    A couple from Iowa had been visiting Tikal in Guatemala with their two kids. The young boy befriended a scrawny scarred up cat who was hanging around their jungle bungalow near the ruins. He’d hug, stroke, and kiss the innocent kitty every afternoon. “Nice, kitty” he’d say, and the cat purred.

About two months after they returned home, the boy had an eighteen inch tape worm removed from his upper intestine. Yikes!

Unless you’re traveling to the polar caps, learn how to keep parasites at bay so your mind and body are clean, and you can perform at your peak.