Traveler’s Diarrhea: Must-Know Facts About Its Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Getting sick while on holiday is the last thing you want to happen.

If there is a high pollen count in your destination and you come down with hay fever, for example, you could end up spending your vacation cooped up in a hotel room to avoid frequent sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes.

In another scenario, you could get drenched in a sudden rainstorm while exploring popular tourist attractions, which will cause you to experience cough and colds, and even flu. Since you will be staying indoors to rest and nurse your ailment, you will likely miss out on a lot of fun activities and great eats.


There is another particular condition that affects 30 to 70 percent of international travelers every year: diarrhea.

What Is a Traveler’s Diarrhea?

Traveler’s diarrhea is generally the same as typical diarrhea. It is the movement of three or more unformed stools within 24 hours, with the added detail that it affects people who are currently in a different country for leisure or work.

People who are also suffering from loose bowel movement after returning from their trip to a foreign country can also be diagnosed as having a traveler’s diarrhea.

This gastrointestinal condition is typically triggered by the ingestion of contaminated food or water. There are six strains of E. coli (a type of bacteria) that can cause inflammation of the stomach and bowels or gastroenteritis. However, the most common strain of bacteria that causes the majority of traveler’s diarrhea cases is enterotoxigenic E. coli.

Campylobacter jejuni, salmonella, and shigella are also bacteria strains that have been linked to traveler’s diarrhea. Certain viruses, including rotavirus and the Norwalk virus, have also been documented as causes of this gastrointestinal disease.

Additionally, parasitic infections can be responsible for diarrhea. There have been cases where Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium have caused diarrhea in travelers who visited Russia.

What Are the Symptoms?

The main symptom of traveler’s diarrhea is loose or watery stools that occur suddenly. It may also be accompanied by one or more of the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Frequent urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Abdominal pain or cramps
  • Painful and explosive gas
  • Bloating
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Blood in the stool

These symptoms often last a week or less if appropriate treatment is provided immediately.

What Are the Recommended Treatment Options and Remedies?

If you experience the symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea, see a doctor immediately. While waiting for your appointment, keep drinking plenty of bottled, boiled water to avoid dehydration.

Additionally, if you can buy it or have someone purchase it for you, take a trusted brand of probiotic medicine for diarrhea. This will help slow down the growth of more harmful bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. It will boost your immune system as well, which can help you manage the other symptoms better.

One of the first things your doctor will prescribe is oral rehydration salts or an ORS solution. This product will effectively replace the fluids and salts you lost from diarrhea. Choose packets that are labeled WHO-ORS to be sure you are buying ones that are approved by the World Health Organization.

When preparing the solution, follow the packet instructions correctly. Use boiled water and consume the mixture within 12 hours if stored at room temperature or within 24 hours if it is refrigerated. Do not drink any leftover suspension that has gone beyond these periods.

If you do not have a high fever and blood in your stool, you will also be prescribed an over-the-counter antimotility medication. This medicine will reduce your need to go to the bathroom to have a bowel movement.

In case you have more than four loose stools a day, you have a fever, and there is blood, pus or mucus in your stools, your doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics. Make sure you follow the recommended dosage and other instructions for taking this medicine.

If the symptoms do not seem to be going away within a week, see your doctor again.

What Can You Do to Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea?

Traveler’s diarrhea is an avoidable condition. You can reduce the risk of contracting diarrhea by following these tips during your travels:

1. Watch what you eat and drink

Since the most common cause of traveler’s diarrhea is the presence of bacteria in food and water, you need to be extra careful about everything that you put in your mouth. This is something that you have to be vigilant about if you will be traveling to high-risk countries such as those found in Central and South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

As much as possible, order only foods that are fully cooked and served hot. Eat only raw fruits and vegetables that you have peeled and washed in clean water.

Also, opt for beverages that come in in factory-sealed bottles or cans. Wipe the glass you will be using before pouring the drink into it. If you want to drink it directly from the container, carefully clean the area around the rim that will touch your lips. Avoid adding ice as well unless you are sure it is made of clean water.

2. Practice good hygiene habits

Wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water before eating and even after touching some items in the market, shops, or outdoors. If these two are not available, use an antibacterial sanitizer.

Additionally, avoid touching your mouth with your hands. Never lick your fingers after eating even if you washed them.

3. Keep your mouth tightly closed when taking a shower

In high-risk countries, tap water may contain harmful bacteria and viruses that could cause gastrointestinal diseases and other types of ailments.

Because of this, always keep your mouth closed when taking a shower to avoid accidentally ingesting water-borne bacteria. Do the same when taking dips in swimming pools.

4. Be prepared

Pack antidiarrheal medications and oral rehydration salts in your medicine kit. You do not need a prescription to buy them so you can get them before you travel.

Make sure you have plenty of bottled water in your hotel room and always bring one or two whenever you go out.

As a final tip, if you will be visiting a particular country for the first time, save the contact information of the hospitals or clinics near your hotel or place of accommodation on your phone or mobile device. By doing so, you will know where to go immediately to get help if you are suffering from the intense symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea.

When properly managed, the traveler’s diarrhea is not a life-threatening condition. However, it will put a damper on all your plans during your holiday or business trip. Follow the tips provided here to avoid experiencing diarrhea and to fully enjoy your travels.

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