Traveler’s diarrhoea is a condition characterized by three or more liquid or loose bowel movements in 24 hours experienced by a traveler in any place other than home. Diarrhoea may occur as a result of increased fluid secretion into the intestine, reduced fluid absorption from the intestine or quick passage of stool through the intestine. But the primary source of infection is ingestion of food or water contaminated with feces. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance are the most common complications.
Traveler’s diarrhoea is the most common illness affecting travelers, affecting a total of approximately 20%-50% of all international travelers. The most important risk factor is the traveler’s destination. The developing countries of Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Africa are considered to be the high-risk destinations with young adults and immunosuppressed individuals at greatest risk for contracting this illness. Men and women are affected equally.
What Causes Traveler’s Diarrhoea?
Ingestion of contaminated food and water is the primary cause of traveler’s diarrhoea, although touching the mouth or nose with contaminated hands have also reportedly caused traveler’s diarrhoea to individuals. In most cases, they are contaminated with a specific type of bacteria. However, there are other causes of traveler’s diarrhoea, which include:
- Escherichia coli(most common cause): attaches to the intestinal lining and releases toxin
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Norwalk virus
- Giardia lamblia
What are the Symptoms of Traveler’s Diarrhoea?
Most cases of traveler’s diarrhoea onset suddenly, usually within the first few days after arrival to destination. However, in some cases, symptoms may only begin to show towards to end of the travel.
- Increased volume and frequency in passing stools, sometimes bloody
- Altered stool consistency
- Sense of urgency to have a bowel movement
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Low grade fever or no fever
How is Traveler’s Diarrhoea Treated and Managed?
Most cases of traveler’s diarrhoea do not require medical treatment and can be treated and managed with sufficient home care. Traveler’s diarrhoea usually disappears within three to seven days without developing complications and is rarely life-threatening.
- Anti-diarrheal agents are available, such as Lomotil and Imodium, however, ask a doctor first before taking these medicines. These may ease symptoms but prolong traveler’sdiarrhoea.
- To avoid dehydration, drink plenty of clear fluids such as, water, fruit juices and sports drinks. Drink small amounts but frequently. Avoid diuretics such as alcohol and caffeine. Also, avoid milk as it may irritate the stomach and exacerbate traveler’s diarrhoea.
- As soon as the individual is able to, eat foods that are high in carbohydrates and avoid food with high fat contents. Add a bit of salt in the diet to replenish lost salt.
- If a person is vomiting, help them into a comfortable position, usually sitting up.
How Can Traveler’s Diarrhoea be prevented?
- When traveling to another country, always boil, cook, or peel the food one is about to eat. Otherwise, forget it.
- Do not eat foods from street vendors.
- Avoid unpasteurized dairy products and raw or undercooked food.
- Do not drink tap water or locally made mixed fruit juices or ice cubes. Canned and bottles drinks are generally safe to drink.
- Prophylactic antibiotics (antibiotics taken before exposure to pathogen) are effective but are not frequently recommended as it may cause various side effects.
- Pepto-Bismol are also effective but are again not generally recommended.
It is generally recommended for travelers to take First Aid Courses to avoid and learn how to manage illnesses and conditions, such as traveler’s diarrhoea, that may arise during the traveling trips.