Friday, December 17, 2010


We usually don't report on such personal experiences, but feel compelled to get the word out to our expat friends. This is our story sure to check with your doctor, nurse and/or pharmacist.

It was bound to happen...trouble in paradise.

Recently, Nancy got pretty sick. And, she practically never gets sick. We're talking in bed round-the-clock, sleeping and sleeping (between trips to the bathroom) sick. Since when is the last time that's happened?  We're talking 'can hardly stand up', exhausted sick.  Dizzy, room twirling sick.
 Really yucky sick.  She's feeling much better now, but wow...

At first, we thought it was just the massive amounts of good food we'd been stuffing ourselves with lately. Way too much fun in the restaurants.  Both of us had been eating pretty much the same stuff, so we didn't think it was food related, but who knows. 

Nancy's stomach pains, nausea, bad headache, dizziness, noisy digestion, exhaustion, high temp, and constant trips to the bathroom (you know what that means! From both ends!), made Rich check with both Ecuadorian friends and the pharmacy.  Maybe flu?  Maybe food poisoning?  Or...?

All suspected parasites.

The pharmacy folks thought it was time to do the treatment. They said whether the illness was related or not; parasites can compromise the immune system and slow down healing and recovery.  Anyone here over 6 months should do the purging meds, they said.
So, we did our research on the net (for drug interactions for Rich), side effects and more. You know Nancy has to be practically dying for her to take a pill beyond vitamins (and even then...), so we researched and researched.  Our regular doctor was busy in surgery but we think we got enough info to proceed, at least to buy the drugs.

Before we began the meds, we double-checked with another doctor...and, you guessed it...she said it's time for the purge, too.  The doctor verified that the meds we had gotten at the pharmacy were the best kind for us. She said that it's important to do the purge and mentioned 'complications' if we didn't.

Even though Nancy is feeling so much better (still very, very easy on the food!!), we thought we'd better just 'bite the bullet' and do the treatment.  Both of us. All the experts we've talked to think we're way overdue since we've been here pushing 2 years. The series of pills (for us, 2 kinds) is over a 3 day far, so good.

 Side effects, for us, were not too bad:  a little shakiness, a little dizziness, a little tiredness, headaches, Nancy says it's kind of like functioning in slo-mo...or not quite up to par, a little off center.  (Maybe that's because she's still not eating much and still recovering.)   But, side effects, for us, certainly were not as bad as Nancy's more acute symptoms earlier.  Worth it, in her opinion.
Rich was feeling tired and a little off-center, too, during the purge.  Nothing major.
We're anxious to get back to our normal routine.

Parasites!  Who would have thought........
We'd heard from our Ecuadorian friends that it is common for families to take medicine about every 6 months to rid their bodies of parasites.  We've seen the posters around town from the public health officials, too.  About every 6 months, there's a campaign for the treatment in all the schools for the kids and their families.

But, even though our digestive systems are probably different from the natives'...and we are fairly careful with where and what we eat, we just didn't pay much attention to the parasite discussions. 
 Not to say that food in the US is entirely safe...Nancy picked up parasites several years ago, we think, in San Francisco's Chinatown, but who knows where those really came from...

Parasites can be airborne here, too, not just in the food, soil and water (tap water here in Cuenca is safe for most.)  Yes, we got just about every vaccine and pill available from our public health nurse before our move here (malaria, cholera, typhoid, yellow fever, etc etc)...we thought we were covered for just about everything.  (Not all needed for Cuenca, but at the time we didn't know where we'd end up.)
Frankly, we were more concerned about volcanoes, culture-shock and Spanish! ..hadn't even considered parasites.

There are several kinds of meds for parasites.  We're not recommending any specific ones, but we do recommend you check with your pharmacist or doctor  to see if you need the treatment, too.  Think gall bladder/digestive symptoms or flu-like, but apparently some folks have no symptoms...for awhile.
Our meds required giving up alcohol for the 3 days, plus a few days sure to pay attention to the details.  Apparently, booze will really set you back with other acute side mojitos!

Our meds are broad-spectrum, meaning they kill several kinds of parasites, as well as bacteria and other bad things.  We're also doing probiotics and yogurt and some herbs to help build back the immune system.
While sick, Nancy drank some nasty tasting electrolyte mix we brought from the US (but you can get a version here).   You can find 'alternative' or 'complimentary' medicine info on the Net, or the doctors here can help, too.  (Doctors truly practice integrated medicine here...conventional and 'natural' combined.)

Some of these buggies can do great for more info;  images are really gross!  One Ecuadorian friend told us a harrowing story about his cousin.  She ended up with a 'snake' in her intestines (that she could see and FEEL moving)... it was over 4 meters long!  We also heard of a little baby, still breast-feeding, with parasites, so they can hit all ages, all lifestyles.  And, some of the parasites can affect the eyes, heart, liver and other organs.  Some can also eat the calcium off your bones.  Some will cause skin problems, too.  The stories, some from the doctor, some from our friends, got our attention big-time!

To end up on a high note...don't think the meds are expensive here.  For 1 type of pill, first day dose for each of us, we paid only 31 cents.  For the other 2 days, the other med cost us only $14.50, for the 2 of us.  You could probably find even better deals on the prices around town, too, depending upon your pharmacy of choice.  For fun, we googled the med equiv. and got the US prices...yikes!  It would have cost us HUNDREDS of dollars EACH just in the pills alone....not to mention the additional doctor fees, lab fees, follow-up visits and labs, etc. 

So...we guess if you're going to have parasites, it's better to get and treat them here in Ecuador!  Viva!

***Info updated Dec 19:
First, thanks to those who sent such sweet notes on and off blog!  Thank you!
The other topic we've been getting questions on is the use of cipro for parasites.  Since we're not medically-trained, we can't offer info on this drug and how it might affect parasites or symptoms.....A good question for the doctor.  We also have cipro from our public health nurse in Oregon, but we didn't take it.  We decided to trust the experts here who have much more expertise in Ecuadorian medicine and parasitos, certainly more than we do. 
Our meds covered 2 types of parasites...worms and protozoa.  No, we didn't see anything 'wiggling' in the toilet!  (Not that we did any kind of analysis of poop!)  The protozoa I had in SF, years ago, was giardia...not fun!
We're feeling so much better now!  Thanks again for all the notes and phone calls.
 We stumbled upon a child's parade at the Square yesterday...lots of very cute pics of angels!  We'll post some adorable pics in the next day or so, so stay tuned.  Merry Christmas!!
Love, N


After this ugly, creepy post, we'll be going back to the pretty ones soon...more pics of our beautiful City, the Holiday Season  and our wonderful friends. 
As we learn more, we'll update this post with more info.  But, be sure to do your homework and check with the medical folks.

Thanks for checking on us.  Both of us are bouncing back ok.  We'll be just fine.


  1. I am so glad to hear that Nancy is feeling so much better. What a bummer of an experience! Thanks, Rich, for sharing with all of us. You are right. I never would have given parasites any serious consideration. I'm just sorry, we had to learn about this health threat at Nancy's expense. I hope you'll both be well enough to still have a Merry Christmas.

  2. Yikes!

    I am convinced. Thanks for the info. Sorry nancy had to get sick.

  3. Triple Yowza.

    I'm glad that you two are getting back to normal.

  4. Thanks for once again "blazing the trail" for us!

  5. Sorry to hear that you have been so sick. Thanks for giving the unsuspecting a heads up. I hope that you will be up and around soon. Mary

  6. Peter said this was this was a regular thing in Venezuela. Every six months they would receive a treatment called "english salts". Tasted awful but within hours anything bad in you was out......

    Peter says "glad to hear everything came out in the end!"

    Shelagh and Peter