'Montezuma's Revenge' no big deal at Pan Am Games

An Action News Special Report
October 28, 2011 12:05:10 PM PDT
After 500 years, it seems as if Aztec emperor Moctezuma II is just about finished getting his revenge on foreigners. Mexico has long been stuck with a reputation as a place where tourists complained of stomach illness after drinking the water and eating certain foods. But despite some health concerns ahead of the Pan American Games, "Montezuma's Revenge" hasn't had an impact in Guadalajara.

"The food actually has been great. We haven't had any problems with it," American swimmer Madison Kennedy said. "We've been told to take the basic precautions, but it hasn't been a problem at all. I don't know of anybody who got sick so far."

Coming into the event, many delegations alerted athletes to be careful, asking them to take precautions to avoid getting sick during the two-week long Olympic-style competition.

Some of the warnings included not drinking tap water or even using it to brush their teeth to avoid the illness, named after the last ruler of the Aztec empire. They also were not supposed to venture into restaurants outside the athletes' village.

"We got emails from the United States Olympic Committee ahead of time, just alerting us to be cautious," American softball player Stacey May-Johnson said. "And we were a little cautious, used bottled water on our toothbrushes and tried to avoid getting water in our mouth. Basic precautions."

Many visitors were prudent, too, coming to Mexico with medication packed along with their clothes in case they got sick. But local organizers said the worries were much ado about nothing.

Pan American Games officials said only about 10 people - of the more than 10,000 athletes and coaches at the athletes' village - have had symptoms related to food or water contamination.

Among the athletes who fell ill was Brazilian discus thrower Ronald Juliao, a bronze medalist who said he fell ill with diarrhea while in Guadalajara preparing for the Games.

None of the cases were serious, though.

"It's all calm so far and hopefully that's how it's going to be until the end," said Eloy Marquez, the head of medical services at the event. "A lot of people think that everything in Mexico will make you sick, but that's not really true."

Local residents also dismissed the concerns brought along by many foreigners.

"This is a thing of the past," said Guadalajara resident Manuel Avila, who works for the state government. "I guess that there have been some unfortunate isolated cases in some cities and that's what makes the news. But in reality, that's not what really happens in most places. It's all safe."

Marquez said that it's normal for some people to have problems because they will try to eat things they are not used to.

"Obviously, people will start eating different types of food, with a lot of spices or too greasy, and then they get in trouble. It's normal," Marquez said. "But it's not because of unsanitary conditions here in Mexico. It happens anywhere in the world."

Doctors said another reason people get sick in places like Mexico is because the food will quickly go bad in the hot weather.

"It happens here sometimes. If the food is not well-kept in a refrigerated environment, people who eat it may suffer gastrointestinal problems. It's normal in the heat," said Roberto Lopez Cervantes, the doctor at the gymnastics venue. "People have to be careful with what they eat. If they are, they shouldn't have any problems."

Marquez said members of the local health department make daily visits to the athletes' village to inspect food and water for bacteria or substances that could be caught in doping tests.

There were increased concerns with the food after the majority of the players at the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol, which is found in contaminated meat. No athletes in Guadalajara have tested positive for the substance so far.

American runner Lee Moore, who said United States coaches dismissed the meat contamination as a problem at the athletes' village cafeteria, said he has heard of only a couple of cases of people feeling ill.

"I've heard of some people who had an upset stomach, but nothing more than like a couple of hours' worth," said Moore, who runs the 400-meter hurdles and the 1,600 relay. "I wouldn't put it anything past normal. Food is about the quality of a college lunchroom, so there hasn't been any problems for us."

The Americans weren't the only ones who came to Guadalajara with concerns.

"The food is not what we are used to, and they talked about the water and all that stuff, but we haven't had any problems yet," Canadian softball player Kaleigh Rafter said. "We are all happy with everything."

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