Queen Hatshepsut and the case of the poison skin cream

German archaeologists studying a skin cream once owned by Queen Hatshepsut have found evidence that the female pharaoh may have accidentally poisoned herself.

The tiny bottle, which has an inscription saying it was owned by Hatshepsut, was still partially filled with a substance that the archaeologists subjected to chemical analysis. It included nutmeg and palm oils, commonly used to soothe skin irritations. It also included benzopyrene, which smells nice but is highly carcinogenic. It’s found in burnt substances such as pitch, coal tar, cigarette smoke, and burnt foods such as barbeque and coffee. Keep that in mind this Labor Day Weekend.

In contrast to the idealized statue of Hatshepsut shown here, her mummy revealed that she was obese, had liver cancer, and probably suffered from diabetes.

Hatshepsut’s rule saw two decades of peace and ambitious trade expeditions as far as Puntland, which was probably in the modern unrecognized state of the same name. Her modern-looking temple at Deir el Bahri is one of Egypt´s most stunning attractions. You can reach it by bus, or if you’re feeling adventurous you can take a mountain path from the Valley of the Kings, which leads you to a cliff overlooking the temple before sloping down past the tombs of its builders and to the temple itself. I did this one August, which is not the best time. That was probably as bad for my skin as Hatshepsut’s skin cream.

[Photo courtesy Rob Koopman]

Knocked up abroad: pregnant travel in the first trimester

For more on pregnant travel, see parts 1 and 2 of Knocked up abroad: pregnancy in a foreign country here and here.

There’s no question that having a baby changes you: your body, your lifestyle, even your shoe size. One thing I hoped not to change altogether was traveling, as long as it was reasonably safe and comfortable for me and the baby. From the beginning of my pregnancy in Istanbul, my doctor has okayed travel, as long as I get up to stretch frequently on flights and try not to overdo it. Most doctors (and mothers) agree that the second trimester is the most comfortable time for pregnant travel but the first trimester can be a good time as well (while you can still squeeze into pre-maternity clothes and walk without waddling) with a little extra precaution and a little more babying (of the mother, of course).

The first trimester of pregnancy is a tricky time for many women: the risk of miscarriage is highest up to 10 weeks, morning sickness is common, and hormones are running wild. It’s too early to tell anyone outside family or close friends and without a visible belly, it’s impossible for strangers to tell as well. At later points in your pregnancy, a baby bump acts as the international symbol for pregnancy and can make it much easier to express your condition when traveling abroad. If you travel in the early months before showing, you may want to learn the local language words for “I’m pregnant” to avoid a Bridget Jones-esque “mit kinder” scene if you need extra help while traveling.

Over this past December, my husband and I were looking for a good trip to take over the holidays, when I was around 10 weeks pregnant. Our location in Istanbul changes the list of short-haul destinations considerably from what we would have considered from New York, and we debated between a warm-weather beach destination (husband) or a snowy and “Christmassy” European city (me). We ruled out Egypt (not warm enough and not Christmassy), New Zealand (even less convenient to get to than from New York), and Sri Lanka (not enough time to plan properly and some risks of disease I couldn’t be vaccinated against). In the end, we chose…Russia.
Going to Russia in winter while pregnant may seem crazy to some, but for me it made sense: Moscow and St. Petersburg are a few hours from Istanbul by direct flight, my husband speaks fluent Russian in case of any problems, and there was no risk of malaria or eating any food that had spoiled in the sun. While it was cold and snowing during our trip and I couldn’t take advantage of some of Russia’s cold-weather remedies like vodka and saunas, a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg was a perfect mix of exotic and comfortable.

Nearly every cafe had a variety of non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverages for me to choose from, I even had non-alcoholic sangria, mojitos, and mulled wine in addition to fresh juices and herbal teas. Both cities are beautiful to explore in the snow, with plenty of museums and cafes to warm up in, and the New Year holiday displays made it festive.

If you are planning a trip to a foreign country while pregnant, it makes sense to keep in mind the following guidelines. Always discuss plans with your doctor before booking and err on the side of caution when choosing a destination.

Check airline restrictions – Most airlines allow pregnant women to fly internationally up to 28 weeks, after which you must provide a doctor’s note issued within a week or so of departure. 35 weeks (earlier for women carrying multiples) is the cutoff for nearly all airlines to prevent women from giving birth on board. Most US domestic carriers will allow pregnant women to fly up to the final month; hilariously, Continental will not let women board if “physical signs of labor are present” though they don’t specify what.

Consider travel insurance – If your medical insurance doesn’t cover you overseas, you may want to look into supplementary medical travel insurance, but be sure it covers pregnancy as many policies do not. Additionally, if you are traveling to a country where English is not spoken, you may want to research the name of a clinic or doctor in case of emergency as well.

Be prepared for jet lag – Before pregnancy, I had little issues with jet lag, trying to get on local time as soon as possible. I discovered when flying back from the US to Turkey that it hits you much harder as a pregnant traveler, especially as you can’t use sleeping pills or alcohol to help you sleep. Factor this into your schedule and give yourself plenty of time to acclimate and adjust to time changes.

Realize your limits have changed – On a usual trip, I’d be up early to walk around a city all day, have a late lunch (or maybe just a big afternoon beer) followed by more museums and exploration, and still be up for checking out the local nightlife. Once pregnant, I required more sleep and three solid meals a day (plus maybe some snacks, I am eating for two!), tired after walking short distances, and was ready to call it a night long before last call. If you have an itinerary, pare it down to the must-sees and double the time to see everything; better to take it easy and enjoy your trip than feel exhausted and sick.

Look for destinations that don’t require vaccinations – One of the first tests your doctor will give you after confirming pregnancy will be for immunizations to hepatitis and rubella. If you haven’t had the vaccines, they will have to wait until after the baby is born as they are not safe for pregnant women. I have not had the hepatitis vaccine yet, and thus have a greater risk of contracting it, which rules out much of Africa and southeast Asia for travel, but also means I must avoid raw vegetables including salad in Istanbul. Most other medications and vaccines commonly given to travelers before going to an area prone to Malaria, Typhoid or Yellow Fever are not advised for pregnant women. But there’s still a big world out there, check the CDC for destination-specific information.

Be extra aware of food and water safety – Pregnant women are more susceptible to food poisoning the average person, as the immune system is suppressed so it doesn’t reject the fetus. This is the reason most pregnant women are told to avoid sushi and food that is not prepared in sanitized conditions. Even adventurous eaters should play it safe while pregnant and drink bottled water when in doubt. I recently had an opportunity to visit Mumbai, India but after consulting with a few friends who had lived there, I worried I’d spend the trip inside my hotel room eating pre-packaged food. Again,

check the CDC and use the same common sense you’d use anytime while traveling: stick with food that is freshly prepared in restaurants full of people.

Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, travelling in the second trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country. Check here for further updates.

[Photo courtesy Mike Barish from the Istanbul tram]

Ask Gadling: What do you do when you get food poisoning while traveling?

No one wants to get sick while traveling. Unfortunately, sick happens – and it’s usually in the form of bad food caused by bad bacteria from things you just don’t want to know about. Food poisoning is no laughing matter, especially when you’re traveling, and while it usually when you least expect it the good news is you can prevent it (and usually cure it) with a few simple steps.

Most of the time, food poisoning is mild and goes away after a few days, but anyone who has suffered through it will tell you it’s miserable – and we agree. All you can do is wait for your body to rid itself of the germs causing the illness. However, food poisoning creeps up when you least expect it – would you know what to do if you suddenly get ill in a foreign country, or on a flight? While we can’t guarantee you won’t get sick while traveling, we can help you ease the pain with a few preventive measures, and some tips to quick healing if the worst should happen.

Disclaimer: We’re not doctors at Gadling; we’re seasoned travelers who have seen our way through some of the best – and worst – travel situations. The information in this article can offer tips on what to do if you get food poisoning (or something similar) while traveling, but should in no way replace the care you would receive from a medical professional. Call your doctor immediately if you get sick on the road.

[Photo from Flickr/ChicagoGeek]

What to do if you get food poisoning while traveling

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.
If you’ve had food poisoning you’re pretty well aware of how bad it can be – and we don’t need to go into details. The bottom line: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Your body loses a lot of water and fluid when you’re sick with food poisoning and the best thing you can do is replenish with water and/or sports drinks. Stay away from sodas and fruit juices – there are too many sugars in those drinks and it will have the reverse effect on your body.

Antibiotics are often used to treat food poisoning but can only be used if directed from your doctor. Some travelers do carry an antibiotic with them for this exact reason, but it’s best to check with your doctor before taking anything.

If you become seriously ill while traveling, your country’s embassy or consulate can help you find medical care. The CDC offers the following rules of advice for travelers who become sick on the road:
  • Travelers’ diarrhea is the most common illness when traveling. It typically starts abruptly but it runs it course. Most doctors recommend trying to keep to your normal diet as much as possible. Try drinking clear liquids and watch for signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth and dark-colored urine. If possible, drink rehydration drinks to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
  • The over-the-counter remedies like Pepto-Bismol and Imodium can sometimes prevent traveler’s diarrhea and ease the food poisoning pains. Follow the directions exactly.
  • Most cases of travelers’ diarrhea resolve within 1 to 3 days without medical treatment. See a doctor if diarrhea or vomiting doesn’t subside or you have a high fever.
  • For a complete list of embassies and consulates, see the U.S. Department of State Web site at www.usembassy.gov. You can also get the contacts for local doctors and medical clinics.
What to do if you get food poisoning in flight

Getting sick at 35,000-feet is one of the worst feelings; getting food poisoning at 35,000-feet is even worse. I was on an 8-hour flight to Rome when two hours into the flight it hit me – whatever I ate was bad, very, very bad. It might have been something I ate prior to the flight, or it might have been the airplane food (which looked to have been left over from the very first commercial airline flight) – either way, this was not going to be a fun a flight. Then the turbulence happened, and it got worse. On the flip side, I learned first-hand what to do when you get sick in flight:

Immediately alert a flight attendant. No one wants to be sick in the 2×2 lavatory at the back of the plane, but when you’re sick – you’re sick. The FAA allows passengers to be in the bathroom for 15 minutes before the flight attendants are allowed to come knocking. Mention your sick to a flight attendant and they’ll take care of you, including monitoring you in the bathroom to make sure you’re OK, and bend the 15-minute rule, if needed.

Water. Water. Water. NO Soda or fruit juice – too much sugar counteracts the rehydration.

Doctors recommend trying to eat normally as soon as possible, so ask the flight attendant for some crackers or pretzels.

If you’re stuck in your seat due to turbulence, there’s not much you can do but grab your air sickness bag and hope it doesn’t last long.

The bad news is that food poisoning takes a toll on your body, as does being up in the air. The good news is that once it makes its way through your system, it’s gone for good.

As soon as you land, stock up on sports drinks (Gatorade, Pedialyte, etc.) to try and regulate your body back to normal.

How can you prevent food poisoning?

While you can’t prevent what other people do, you can take steps to decrease your chances of getting food poisoning:
  • Wash your hands often and always before you touch food.
  • Don’t eat raw meat, poultry or fish if it’s not from a clean area. While raw food is a delicacy, in some parts of the world it’s not prepared according to standards. The basic rules apply here: if it doesn’t look right, don’t eat it.
  • Make sure that meat, chicken, fish, and eggs are fully cooked.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you are not sure if a food is safe, don’t eat it. This goes for our beloved “street meat” and off-the-cart food.
We hope you never get sick when traveling, but if you do, just remember to take it slow, give yourself time to rebound and drink plenty of water.

Gadling readers, we want to hear from you: Have you ever gotten food poisoning while traveling? What advice do you have for other travelers?

[Photo from Flickr/mr_t_77]

"Dream fish" poisons two diners in Mediterranean

For all you gutsy travelers who feel that you have to taste the local specialties in order to truly know a place,
here’s a story to keep in mind. Two diners in the western Mediterranean recently suffered intense hallucinations and
digestive problems after eating Sarpa Salpa, a type of Indo-Pacific reef fish (right). According to an article in Practical Fishkeeping, the LSD-like
hallucinations from Sarpa Salpa, also known as Salema Porgy, can begin only minutes after eating the fish and, in some
cases, can last for days. Other fish known to cause hallucinogenic fish poisoning, or ichthyoallyeinotoxism, include
certain types of "mullet, goatfish, tangs, damsels and rabbitfish," according to Practical Fishkeeping. While
the article isn’t clear on where the poisoning occurred, a study of the two cases was conducted by researchers in
Marseilles. Actually, considering the fact that Sarpa Salpa is native to the Pacific, maybe some local seafood would
have been a safer bet.