Digestive Health

11 October 2010

Games organisers fight 'Delhi Belly'

Reports of upset stomachs at the Commonwealth Games village in the Indian capital show that even highly protected athletes are not immune to the infamous "Delhi belly".


Reports of upset stomachs at the Commonwealth Games village in the Indian capital show that even highly protected athletes are not immune to the infamous "Delhi belly".

Organisers have gone to great lengths to ensure hygienic and safe food and drink would be served to participants to ensure their sporting performances are not affected by a bout of diarrhoea.

"Delhi Belly" - which the urban dictionary describes as "dysentery caused after eating Indian food" - is known to strike many newcomers to the city, famous for its spicy street fare.

"Nutrition and hygiene are vital," Ajay Grover, consultant for catering in the Games Organising committee, said on the eve of the Games. "We have been testing the food samples regularly in the laboratories.

Experts at hand

"We will also have experts at hand to ensure the athletes take in the right food and avoid stomach bugs."

Despite these precautions, an inquest is underway to find the cause of upset stomachs among a number of athletes, particularly the swimmers, which led to suspicions that a "toxic" pool could be to blame.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief Michael Fennell has since ruled this out, saying all three pools used by swimmers have been eliminated as possible sources of the stomach problems.

"We are satisfied with the swimming pools. The problems to these swimmers could be from other things," he said.

"Delhi belly" blamed for failure to qualify

England's 50m butterfly gold medallist Fran Halsall blamed "Delhi belly" for her failure to qualify for the 100m final, while leading Australian cyclist Daniel Ellis was also bedridden two days before a team sprint final.

"Dan went off perfectly for us, starting as quickly as he was running to the toilet the other day," his teammate Jason Niblett joked after the team's victory.

Athletes and officials are tightly controlled and have strict instructions not to wander around the city or eat from roadside stalls where a steaming kebab or samoosa can be a highlight for a visitor or a deep regret.

Dirty water used for cooking or washing ingredients, poor hygiene of the vendor and unclean utensils are leading causes of diarrhoea.

Unfamiliar Indian food

Many Western visitors are often simply unaccustomed to the rich and spicy food in India.

An official website launched exclusively for foreigners attending the October 3-14 event had a simple piece of advice: "Never buy food from the roadside or mobile stalls.

"Not that they are necessarily bad, but one's system may not be accustomed to such delicacies which may result in an upset stomach."

But it is not just risky street food that poses a danger.

A survey by Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) late last year found that as many as 125 eating joints in the city failed to meet up to the basic standards of safety and hygiene.


Filthy toilets, dingy kitchens, unhygienic staff and overflowing waste bins were some of the main complaints.

The Delhi government said before the event that it would issue food carts with an official stamp of hygiene to provide risk-free street food during the Games.

"Mobile squads of health officials will inspect these carts regularly to ensure safety standards. As of now, 1,000 carts are ready for vendors who have licences," Delhi chief secretary Rakesh Mehta said.

"They will have to make sure the food is tasty and the surroundings are clean."

"Delhi belly" - just one of the problems

The "Delhi belly" scare is just one of a number of problems to afflict the competition, which brings together about 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 nations and territories in the former British empire.

Preparations were shambolic, with infrastructure completed at the last minute, which left little time for testing equipment and facilities.

On the first day, the scales for weighing boxers failed, untrained drivers of the official Games cars have been getting lost, and a scoreboard at the rugby stadium collapsed.

Attendance at many events during the first week was woeful because of problems with the ticketing website and the absence of sales kiosks at stadiums. (Sapa/ October 2010)

Read more: Illness dashes more hopes in Games


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Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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