How to Prevent Traveler’s diarrhea

Health Travel

Traveler’s diarrhea, as its name implies, is diarrhea associated with traveling. Diarrhoea is defined as an alteration of normal bowel movements noted with an increase in water content, volume or frequency of stool.

Traveler’s diarrhea can result in significant debilitation and can frequently affect travelers especially in areas where hygiene and sanitation is poor. Fortunately, the majority of traveller’s diarrhoea cases run a course of about three days and is managed only symptomatically.

Causes of Traveler’s Diarrhea

Traveler’s diarrhea is a result of ingestion of contaminated food or water. There is a whole range of microorganisms that can cause traveler’s diarrhea. The most common is a bacterium called Escherichia coli which is responsible for up to 80 per cent of traveler’s diarrhea. It will present within 48 hours with multiple episodes of watery stool.
Other cause of traveler’s diarrhea includes bacteria, viral or parasitic causes such as salmonella, rotaviruses and giardia. Some will present acutely but others can present days and weeks after the initial infection, an example being Giardiasis. The manner of presentation also varies with some presenting with fever and bloody diarrhea (e.g. Typhoid fever caused by Salmonella) while others can present with multiple runs of watery stools leading to dehydration (e.g. Cholera).

Symptoms of Traveler’s Diarrhea

As traveler’s diarrhea can present with different severity, the traveler needs to watch for the following signs that suggest that the infection would require medical attention.
1. Presence of high fever
2. Presence of bloody stool
3. If diarrhea episodes are greater that six times a day
4. If diarrhea is persistent for more than three days
5. If it is associated with severe vomiting
6. If there is presence of confusion drowsiness
7. If signs of dehydration are present such as reduced urination, lethargy, drowsiness, fainting spells and sunken eyes
8. If it is the young or the elderly that are affected as they have lower physiological reserve to combat dehydration.

Treatment of Traveler’s Diarrhea

Treatment would involve fluid hydration. If a bacterial or parasitic cause is suspected, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. It is not advisable for travelers to start on antibiotics indiscriminately as it will eventually lead to the emergence of multi-drug resistant bacteria.

As a precautionary measure, always bring along a travel medicine kit with oral rehydration salts, anti-vomiting and anti-diarrhea medication for treatment of simple traveler’s diarrhea.

Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea

As prevention, ensure that food and sources are not contaminated. Measures should include the following:
1. Boil the water for consumption
2. Do not drink from the tap
3. Drink from bottled water or canned drinks but ensure that the area of mouth contact of the can or bottle is clean.
4. Eat fruits that need to be peeled
5. Avoid salads
6. Eat cooked meals that are freshly prepared
7. Ensure proper hand hygiene before eating.