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Culture Shock! Everything is OTC

Guys, we totally forgot to post a Culture Shock! on Wednesday!  Woops!  We were too focused on finishing the Inca Trail epic.  So here it is for this week, better late than never!

So far on our adventure we haven’t needed to use our health insurance.  That is not because we haven’t gotten sick (we have), but because everything you need is sold over-the-counter at your friendly neighborhood “farmacia.”  The only thing you need to do is diagnose yourself!  It’s sometimes actually fun playing doctor.  The process usually goes like this.  Day one: stomach pain and diarrhea.  Day two: usually everything is better once it’s all out of your system, but if you are still feeling problems, wait one more day.  Day three: If you still feel terrible then get yourself some Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic for bacterial infections which will knock out just about anything.  If the Cipro doesn’t clear it up, then you are in trouble and should probably go to the doctor.  Carrie and I have both taken the Cipro once and both times within a few hours we were feeling much better.

There are some potential negatives to this system, of course.  Firstly, you really can get anything you want over the counter.  It is of course possible to abuse this for recreational purposes.  Secondly, pharmacists are not actually educated or trained like they are in the United States.  When we went to get some Cipro for Zach the pharmacist actually tried to sell us more than two times as many tablets as we needed and tried to convince Zach he needed to take a large dose for 10 days.  Either she was being totally dishonest to make a sale or we really knew the drug instructions better than she did, because you’re only supposed to take a small dose for five days!  You have to be smart and research to find out what you really need when you’re sick.  If in doubt, you should see a doctor first!

However, I think needing a prescription to cure yourself of obvious problems is part of what makes medical care super expensive in the United States.  Sure, pharmacies shouldn’t hand out addictive drugs over the counter, but there’s also no reason it should be necessary to pay a doctor to tell you what you usually already know.  Maybe instead of forcing money out of people’s pockets, we could focus on educating people on how to help themselves.  But no, let’s continue to let the drug companies tell us what medicines we need.  We all know that they have our best interests in mind.

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About Zach

Zach seeks to live a simpler life without the extravagance of American culture. Buy fewer things, need less money, work less, play more.

Posted on January 20, 2012, in Colombia, Culture Shock!, Ecuador, Health, Peru, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Yes, abuse of antibiotics in South America is well-documented and a large reason that superbugs are thriving. Community-acquired organisms are generally more antibiotic-resistant in Latin America than in more-industrialized countries. Antibiotics also are used extensively in hospitals, largely for surgical prophylaxis and for nosocomial infections, which occur more frequently (in 15%-20%) in hospitalized patients. Prophylactic use of antibiotics is largely inappropriate–i.e., indiscriminate, inopportune, and prolonged. A frequent outcome of this inappropriate use is the occurrence of nosocomial infections due to strains that are much more drug resistant than those encountered in industrialized countries.

  2. Marjorie E, Drummond

    And what if your little stomach upset is virus-induced? Then Cipro is obviously the wrong course of medicine in your self-diagnosis and you are actually doing harm to your system. Cipro is great for anthrax, not so good for rotavirus. There are reasons for medicial professionals.

  3. Educated guesses based on symptoms and research led us to get Cipro each time. And each time, it worked. If it hadn’t worked, obviously we would have seen a medical professional.

  4. Awesome sauce!!!

  5. Ciprofloxacin/Ciprofloxacino is a last defence anti biotic and should only be used in cases where other meds have failed. It’s used for SEVERE infections and diagnosis of a stomach INFECTION is impossible without samples of both blood and stool. Using such a strong medicine for what is probably something that will pass on it’s own is a recipe for disaster. When you do finally succumb to a nasty illness and nothing works, this will be the reason why.

    As of 2011 the FDA has added two black box warnings for this drug in reference to spontaneous tendon ruptures and the fact that ciprofloxacin may cause worsening of myasthenia gravis symptoms, including muscle weakness and breathing problems. Such an adverse reaction is a potentially life-threatening event and may require ventilatory support which will not be available in South America.

    Sometimes the cure is worse than the symptom. There are reasons this drug is not OTC in most of the civilized world.

    • I dont mean to imply that we dont take the drug seriously. I was sick for over 3 weeks before I took it. We are not just taking it every time we have a tummyache. I think 3 weeks plus of regular stomach pain, diarrhea, and fever that didnt respond to any other medicine justifies taking Cipro.

  6. Just noticed the bit about it working… I’d be willing to bet the problem would go away on it’s own anyway but that’s impossible to know now. You’re eating foods with the same name, grown in a completely different environment and provided by people that have zero hygiene standards, get used to it, not kill all the good bacteria you have so that it keeps reoccurring.

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