Traveler's Diarrhea

Travel Clinics of America - how to prevent Traveler's Diarrhea

Traveler’s diarrhea affects half of all travelers to developing countries.

What is it?

Traveler’s diarrhea is the passage of several watery stools with abdominal cramps. Fever, vomiting and bloody stools are not typical. The disease is usually caused by bacteria and less commonly by viruses and parasites. Travelers develop the condition after inadvertently swallowing germs during mealtime or from contaminated hand to mouth contact.

How do I avoid it?

Water

  • Boiling water for 3 minutes is the safest method to disinfect water.

  • Drink bottled water and juices, and steaming hot coffee and tea. Make sure bottles are unopened and have an intact seal.

  • Use bottled water to brush your teeth.

  • Avoid milk and dairy products, which may be unpasteurized.

  • Do not use ice which is made from local tap water.

  • Consider using iodine tablets to disinfect water, unless you are pregnant or have a thyroid condition. Iodine can also be used after water is passed through a portable water filter. Iodine disinfection and filtering are not foolproof, but they can reduce your risk.

Food

Traveler’s diarrhea occurs more often from contaminated food than from water.

  • Avoid buffets, cold foods and salads (washed with contaminated water).

  • Eat only fruit that has thick skin that you have peeled personally.

  • Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, seafood or vegetables.

  • Insist that food and hot beverages be served smoking hot.

  • Do not eat food from street vendors.

  • Carry hand sanitizer at all times and use liberally. Wash hands with soap before eating.

How do I treat it?

If you contract traveler’s diarrhea, treatments are available to shorten your illness. Rehydration is the cornerstone of treatment. This is especially true for children who become dehydrated more quickly.

  • Drink fluids. Bottled juices and water as well as broths made from boiled water are excellent choices.

  • Oral rehydration salts (ORS) are readily available around the world. Pedialyte is one brand well known in the U.S. Dilute ORS with bottled water to rehydrate.

  • You can make your own rehydrating solution by mixing together 1 tsp salt and 8 tsp sugar in 1 qt of clean water.

  • Use loperamide (Imodium AD) if symptomatic relief is needed. Do not take it if you have a fever or bloody stools. Follow label directions.

  • Consider taking an antibiotic prescribed by your travel physician if you have no relief from loperamide.

  • Wash your hands frequently to prevent infecting others.

When do I need a doctor?

If the diarrhea is severe, or accompanied by fever or rectal bleeding, consult a physician. In most cases of traveler’s diarrhea, this is not necessary. Nevertheless, if you have questions about your symptoms, or are uncertain about self-medicating, then seek medical advice.

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