Although travelers' diarrhea can be a result of stress due to traveling, jet lag, or change in diet or altitude, the chance is slight. A bacterium, parasite, or virus will almost always be at the root of your traveling tummy troubles. Most people pick up the disease after eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by feces and not adequately purified. Travelers' diarrhea usually leads to watery stools, stomach cramps, low-grade fever, and sometimes nausea and vomiting.
Most symptoms will clear up without treatment within a couple of days. If a bacterium causes a case of travelers' diarrhea and the diarrhea persists, antibiotic treatment might be necessary. Travelers' diarrhea rarely leads to any kind of life-threatening condition; the most serious complication is dehydration.
Travelers' diarrhea has a diverse set of causes. Some form of bacteria (most commonly Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli) causes 85 percent of travelers' diarrhea cases; parasites are to blame for about 10 percent of cases; and about 5 percent of infections can be traced back to viruses.
Who's at Risk?
According to the CDC, ten million travelers end up with a case of travelers' diarrhea each year, and people who visit developing countries in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are most susceptible. For reasons that aren't understood, young adults between 21 and 29 are at a higher-than-normal risk for developing travelers' diarrhea. Children and people with weak immune systems, those with diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease, and people who take acid blockers or antacids (stomach acid destroys bacteria, so without the presence of acid, harmful bacteria can take root) are also more susceptible. Traveling during the summer and during rainy seasons also increases your chance of encountering a nasty bug.
Although it's not always possible to avoid harmful bugs while you're traveling, these tips should help you keep from getting sick so you can enjoy the sights:
- Follow the rules. The general travelers' rule for eating is: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it. In other words, if you must drink local water, boil it; only eat foods you know have been thoroughly cooked; and stick to fruits with thick skins, such as bananas, that you peel yourself.
- Don't drink the water. This old standard is worth noting because you have to worry about more than just sticking a glass under the tap. Be aware of less-obvious water hazards, such as consuming ice cubes or fruit juices made with tap water, taking a shower, going swimming, or brushing your teeth. Skip anything that may have been washed in contaminated water, such as salads or raw vegetables.
- Stick to the bottle. Bottled water, carbonated drinks, beer, or wine in their sealed containers should be okay to drink.
- Beware the local fare. Avoid beverages and foods sold by street vendors.
- Be wary of the unsanitary. Be sure all food is cooked well and served steaming hot. In addition, don't eat moist foods left at room temperature, and avoid buffets.
- Think pink. Bismuth subsalicylate (the main ingredient in Pepto-Bismol) can reduce your risk of developing diarrhea, but there are certain precautions and some strange side effects (like a black-colored tongue). Talk with a health-care professional if you think you might want to take a little pink prevention on your vacation.
Contracting typhoid, which you'll read about next, also poses a greater risk when travelling to developing regions like India, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America. But typhoid, which spreads through contaminated food and water, is much more serious and sends the body into a fever that can reach 104 degrees. If not treated with antibiotics, typhoid can be fatal.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.