Traveler’s Diarrhea

Overview

What is traveler’s diarrhea?

People get traveler’s diarrhea by eating food and drinking water that contain germs. People can get this illness in areas of the world where the drinking water is not clean. People who live these areas often drink tap water that contains these germs, but they do not get diarrhea. This is because their bodies are used to the germs. In the same way, cooks and food handlers may have the germs that cause traveler’s diarrhea on their hands, but they may not get sick themselves. When people travel to a new place, they are more likely to become sick, because they lack protective antibodies (infection-fighting agents in the blood) that attack these germs.

Symptoms

How can I tell if I have traveler’s diarrhea?

You may have traveler’s diarrhea if you have at least 3 loose stools in 24 hours. You may also have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Vomiting

  • Stomach cramps

  • Bloody stools

Treatment

How is traveler’s diarrhea treated?

Even if you don’t treat traveler’s diarrhea, it will usually go away in 4 to 5 days. You should drink plenty of clear liquids to replace lost fluids due to the diarrhea. Taking medicine to treat traveler’s diarrhea may make you feel better more quickly. It often is treated with antibiotics (medicines that kill bacteria). To get antibiotics, you need a prescription from your doctor. You also can take a medicine called loperamide (brand name: Imodium). However, if you have bloody diarrhea, you should not take this medicine without also taking an antibiotic. Children, pregnant women, older adults and other people who get dehydrated easily should drink rehydration solutions. Rehydration solutions help replace the fluid you lose while you are sick. You can buy packets of rehydration salts (to be mixed with safe water) at camping/outdoor stores or drug stores.

When should I contact my doctor?

If your child has a fever higher than 102°F, is dehydrated, has blood in the stool or vomits several times, he or she should see a doctor right away. If treating your traveler’s diarrhea isn’t helping you to feel better, talk to your doctor.

Prevention

How can I avoid traveler’s diarrhea?

When you will be traveling to an area where the water may not be clean, see your doctor 4 to 6 weeks before your trip. Your doctor may want to give you some medicines, such as antibiotics or shots, to protect you from illness while you are away. During your trip, be careful about the following things:

Boiling water will kill the germs that cause diarrhea, making the water safe to drink. Boil water vigorously for 1 minute and allow it to cool to room temperature (do not add ice). When traveling in high altitudes (6,562 feet or higher), boil water for 3 minutes.

  • Do not drink tap water and do not use it to brush your teeth.

  • Do not drink bottled water if the seal on the bottle has been broken.

  • Do not use ice unless you’re sure it’s made from purified water.

  • Do not drink milk or eat dairy products that have not been pasteurized (heated to a temperature that kills all germs).

  • Do not eat raw fruits or vegetables unless they can be peeled and you are the one who peels them.

  • Do not eat cut-up fruit salad.

  • Do not eat lettuce or other leafy raw vegetables (such as spinach).

  • Do not eat raw or rare (slightly cooked) meat or fish.

  • Do not eat food from people who sell it on the street.

What is safe to eat or drink?

When you are in a place where you could get traveler’s diarrhea, it is probably safe to eat or drink the following:

  • Soft drinks that are carbonated (such as cola).

  • Hot drinks, such as tea or coffee.

  • Carbonated or noncarbonated bottled water, as long as you are the one who breaks the seal on the bottle.

  • Raw fruits or vegetables that can be peeled, as long as you are the one who peels them.

  • Food that is served hot.

  • Meat that is well cooked.

Other Organizations

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Is there medicine I can take to prevent traveler’s diarrhea?

  • Is traveler’s diarrhea common in the country I’m traveling to?

  • If I get traveler’s diarrhea, who should I contact and when?

  • Are there vaccines I should get before my trip?

  • How long before my trip should I get vaccinated?

Citations

  • Traveler’s Diarrhea by J Yates, M.D.( 06/01/05, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20050601/2095.html)