Travelers’ diarrhea can turn your dream vacation into a nightmare. It’s the most common travel-related illness and it’s caused by contaminated food or water. Although it’s super unpleasant, it’s typically not serious in most cases. Plus, there are things you can do to prevent travelers’ diarrhea while you’re on vaycay, and especially while traveling to high risk areas. If you’re worried about contracting this illness, we have tips and remedies so you know how to treat travelers’ diarrhea and feel better faster so you can enjoy your vacation.
What is Travelers’ Diarrhea?
Travelers’ diarrhea is a gastrointestinal infection. It’s a very common travel-related illness that’s usually related to a bacterial infection from consuming contaminated food or water. You’ll typically experience loose stools and abdominal cramps, however most cases are mild and last for a few days. It’s similar to food poisoning or the stomach flu, with symptoms beginning around six to 72 hours after eating or drinking something contaminated.
When your immune system detects an infection in your gastrointestinal tract, it produces an inflammatory response to kill and remove the pathogen. This causes symptoms of infection like fever, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Dehydration with travelers’ diarrhea can also be a main concern due to too much fluid loss.
What Causes Travelers’ Diarrhea?
Traveler’s diarrhea is caused by drinking water or eating foods that have bacteria (including E. coli and Salmonella), viruses (including Giardia and Cyclospora) or parasites (including norovirus and rotavirus). It can also be spread by person-to-person contact due to poor hygiene.
It’s most common in hot or humid climates where bacteria can breed more easily, and is more common in developing countries that lack the resources to treat water and kill these contaminants. You’re most at risk of travelers’ diarrhea in areas of Asia (except Japan or South Korea), the Middle East, Mexico, Africa, and South and Central America.
What Are the Symptoms of Travelers’ Diarrhea?
- Loose, watery stools
- Urgent need to go to the bathroom
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of appetite
How to Prevent Travelers’ Diarrhea
1. Be Careful with Water
When visiting high-risk countries, always drink bottled water and never drink unsterilized water. This includes fruit juices with added water, drinks with ice made with local water, and brushing your teeth or rinsing your mouth with tap water. Also be mindful of eating fruit that’s been washed with unsterilized water.
2. Be Mindful of the Food
To prevent travelers’ diarrhea, be careful of the foods you eat. Avoid eating food from street vendors, eat foods that are well cooked and served hot, and avoid foods that are moist or served at room temperature. You should also avoid unpasteurized dairy products, including ice cream. Salads with uncooked vegetables and fruits should be avoided, and make sure that you peel any fruit you’re going to eat. Buffets and fast food restaurants pose an increased risk of infection.
3. Practice Good Hygiene
Be sure to wash your hands often, especially before you eat or touch your face or mouth. Keep children from putting anything, including their hands, into their mouth. If you don’t have access to clean water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
How to Treat Travelers’ Diarrhea
1. Drink Lots of Fluids
It’s important to drink lots of fluids if you’re experiencing diarrhea, in order to stay hydrated. Dehydration is a major concern and can become dangerous. Try to drink lots of water, and replenish lost electrolytes with sports drinks and coconut water. Make sure the water you drink is safe (boiled, disinfected or from a commercially sealed bottle).
2. Stick to Plain Foods
Certain foods can help alleviate your symptoms and keep you nourished when you have travelers’ diarrhea. While you may not feel like eating, stick to plain foods like bananas, white rice, applesauce and toast. You can also try oatmeal, boiled or baked potatoes (with no skin), baked chicken (without skin), and chicken soup. Broth-based soups are packed with nutrients and help aid in rehydration.
3. Avoid Certain Foods
There are foods you’ll want to stay away from at all costs if you have travelers’ diarrhea, as they can make symptoms worse. Avoid fried and greasy foods, as well as high fibre foods that can increase bloating. Steer clear of alcohol, caffeine, tea, artificial sweeteners, beans, berries, green leafy veggies, cabbage, cauliflower, chickpeas, peas, peppers, prunes, corn and broccoli.
4. Try OTC Treatments
When you travel, always be prepared with over-the-counter medications in case you get travelers’ diarrhea. Pepto-Bismol can help treat mild cases of travelers’ diarrhea and antidiarrheal agents like Imodium can also be used. Try to Imodium for situations like plane travel, as it could prolong the process by not allowing your body to eliminate what it needs to.
5. Stay Cool
Since sweating can also cause dehydration, it’s important to stay in a cool place while you rehydrate and start to feel better. Many cases of travelers’ diarrhea occur in places with hot and humid climates, so make sure you’re recovering in a room that has air conditioning or a fan that can keep you cool. Stay out of the heat and sun as much as possible while you’re trying to get better.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience moderate to severe dehydration, persistent vomiting, a high fever, bloody stools, or severe pain in the abdomen or rectum, or if the diarrhea lasts longer than a few days, it’s time to call your doctor. Certain bacteria or parasites can cause your symptoms to last longer or be more severe, in which case you may need prescription medications to help you feel better.
Travelers’ diarrhea is a serious downer. Fortunately, it only lasts a few days, so use these tips to feel better and make the most of the rest of your trip!
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