Travellers’ Diarrhea

What is Travellers’ Diarrhea?

The most common illness that affects travellers going to any location around the world is Traveller’s Diarrhea. This illness is easily spread from person to person, or by consuming food and water that has been contaminated with bacteria. Many different bacteria cause Traveller’s Diarrhea. These are: E.coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter as well as parasites such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora or viruses like norovirus or rotavirus. Due to the prevalence of these bacteria in developing areas, you are at risk if going to destinations with poor standards of hygiene and food handling practices.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Travellers’ Diarrhea?

Symptoms will depend on the bacteria/virus or parasite which is responsible for the illness, but as the name suggests, most often cause diarrhea. Other symptoms include fever, nausea, vomiting, bloating, abdominal cramping, frequent bathroom use and dehydration. It’s important to remember that severe cases of travelers’ diarrhea can cause severe dehydration and even death, especially among the elderly, children or those with compromised immune systems. In the odd and rare case that you experience blood in your stool with travelers’ diarrhea, it is important to seek immediate medical attention, as this indicates internal bleeding.

Travelers’ diarrhea is generally not severe, and will most often clear up in a few days on its own. However, we still strongly recommend taking with you Antibiotics for Traveler’s Diarrhea as a back-up.  If symptoms persist or worsen after a few days while taking antibiotics, medical attention may be required.

Where am I Most at Risk?

Any traveller is at risk of travellers’ diarrhea, simply because while travelling we tend to eat unfamiliar foods in unfamiliar places. This is why traveller’s diarrhea affects even those vacationing in resorts, industrialized areas, and urban spots. You are most at risk if travelling to destinations with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation, as well as if you eat at places with poor food handling practices. This illness, however, can be contracted in virtually any place in the world, which is why it’s always important to assess the cleanliness of the food and water you ingest. High-risk destinations include developing countries in Central and South America, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and there is a moderate risk in portions of Eastern Europe and some parts of the Caribbean. The lowest risk is in Northern and Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

What Should I do to Prevent Contraction of Travellers’ Diarrhea?

As there is no vaccination for traveller’s diarrhea, it is important to focus on prevention while you travel. It is always recommended to ensure that the food and water you are drinking is sanitized before you eat it. You should wash your hands frequently, running them under warm water for at least 20 seconds and washing with soap. In the event that soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

It’s also recommended that you discuss prevention and treatment options with a travel clinic or healthcare provider before you go on your trip, due to the prevalence of travellers’ diarrhea worldwide. Finally, ensure that you have traveler’s diarrhea antibiotics with you for all of your trips.

What Should I do if I Suspect I May Have Travellers’ Diarrhea?

As this illness is more annoying than dangerous, you need not necessarily seek medical attention unless symptoms worsen or persist beyond 5 days. If you experience travellers’ diarrhea it is important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids, especially if your diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting and nausea. Avoid dehydration and remember to use safe water that has been boiled, disinfected of commercially sealed. In worse cases, anti-motility medication such as Pepto-Bismol may provide some relief, though you should always remember to follow the instructions on the packaging before use and consult with a health care provider beforehand.

Seek medical attention if you experience bloody diarrhea, high fever, continuous vomiting, severe pain, signs of dehydration or profuse sweating. As some of these symptoms may also indicate another illness, it’s always a good idea to check with a doctor if you suspect travellers’ diarrhea is not the culprit.


References:

Government of Canada (2017). Travellers’ Diarrhea Information. Retrieved from:

https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/diseases/diarrhea

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