Traveler’s Diarrhea

What is traveler’s diarrhea?

Traveler's diarrhea affects about 10 million people a year, and is a digestive tract disorder that causes diarrhea, as the name suggests.  Loose stools and abdominal cramps that are associated with diarrhea are not only uncomfortable and painful, but can cause dehydration that puts a traveler at serious health risk. Fortunately, most cases of traveler's diarrhea does develop into anything serious or life threatening and resolves within a few days. 

Factors that contribute to traveler’s diarrhea are the climate, sanitary conditions, and local microbiota.  Taking safety precautions with what you eat and drink in foreign countries can help you avoid this uncomfortable illness.  Similarly, if you are traveling to a high risk area, where sanitary conditions are known to be subpar, or infectious disease is common, travelling with precautionary medication to treat traveler’s diarrhea can be beneficial.  


What are the symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea? 

As the name indicates, traveler's diarrhea usually coincides with traveling.  Typically it begins suddenly during travels, or right when you come home.  Some of the most common symptoms of traveler's diarrhea include:

·         Three or more loose stools a day

·         An urgent need to defecate

·         Abdominal cramps

·         Nausea

·         Vomiting

·         Fever

Although most cases improve within a few days on their own, some cases can be more severe. Traveler’s diarrhea can lead to dehydration, persistent vomiting, a high fever, blood in the stool, and severe abdominal or rectal pain.  If symptoms persist, or get worse, after a few days then a doctor should be consulted.  Below are some symptoms worthy of contacting a doctor:

·         Persistent vomiting

·         Bloody stools

·         Severe diarrhea

·         A fever of 102 F or higher

·         Dry mouth or crying without tears

·         Signs of being unusually sleepy, drowsy or unresponsive

·         Decreased volume of urine, including fewer wet diapers in infants

What causes traveler’s diarrhea?

Traveler’s diarrhea is often times the result of some type of infectious agent, like a bacteria, virus or parasite.  The easiest way to contract one of these stomach bugs is by eating or drinking something that is contaminated with an infectious agent.  The most common of the infectious agents that cause traveler’s diarrhea are enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli bacteria, which attach to the lining of the intestine and release a toxin that causes the common symptoms we saw above.

Traveler’s diarrhea can also be the result of changes in diet when traveling or the stress that traveling can put the body through, although this is less common. 

How can traveler’s diarrhea be treated?

Many people do not need treatment for traveler’s diarrhea, as it usually clears up on its own after a few days.  Treatment is mainly focused on mitigating the symptoms of the illness, but medication may be needed in more severe cases. Common treatments for this condition include:

·         Anti-diarrhea medication

·         Pepto-Bismol

·         Antibiotics

·         Drinking fluids to ensure proper hydration and avoid dehydration

·         Avoiding caffeine and alcohol