Traveler's Diarrhea

What is traveler's diarrhea?

Traveler's diarrhea causes your bowel movements (BMs) to become loose and watery. It may happen when you visit other countries that have certain germs in the water or on food. These countries include some areas of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, and Central and South America. You may get traveler's diarrhea after eating infected food or drinking infected water. Traveler's diarrhea usually lasts a few days.

What causes traveler's diarrhea?

Your diarrhea may be caused by germs called bacteria (bak-TEE-ree-ah), viruses and parasites. Food and unbottled liquids that you eat and drink in different countries may be infected with these germs. When you eat the infected food or liquid, the germs move to your bowel and cause diarrhea.

What are the signs and symptoms of traveler's diarrhea?

  • Loose, watery BMs. You may feel like you need to go to the bathroom very often. You may have many more BMs than usual.

  • Cramping or pain in your abdomen (belly).

  • Nausea (upset stomach), vomiting (throwing up), and bloating (feeling of fullness).

  • Fever and tiredness.

How is traveler's diarrhea diagnosed?

Your caregiver will do a medical exam. You may need to give your caregiver a sample of your BM. This may be sent to the lab for special tests. Test results may help caregivers know what germ is causing the diarrhea and if medicine is needed.

How is traveler's diarrhea treated?

Ask your caregiver for information about traveler's diarrhea. This will help you understand about the different tests and treatments.

  • Eating and drinking: Having diarrhea may cause you to lose too much water and electrolytes (salts) from your body. This condition is called dehydration (dee-heye-DRAY-shen).

    • Drink clear liquids during the first 24 hours or until the diarrhea stops. Drink at least eight to ten (8 ounce) cups of liquid each day. Ask your caregiver if you should drink oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar you need to replace body fluids. This may help prevent dehydration.

    • After the first 24 hours, you may eat bland foods. Bland foods include cooked cereals, rice, soup, bread, crackers, baked potatoes, eggs, and applesauce. You may eat regular foods after two to three days.

  • Medicines: You may or may not need medicine to treat your diarrhea. If you do need medicine, your caregiver may give you one or more of the following:

    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

    • Antidiarrheal medicine: This medicine is given to decrease the amount of diarrhea you are having. Some of these medicines coat the intestine (bowel) and make the BM less watery. Other antidiarrheal medicine works by slowing down how fast the intestine is moving.

    • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.

    • Antiparasitic medicine: This medicine may be given to kill parasites. Parasites are living things that feed or eat off of other living things.

Do's and Do nots:

When in another country, do not drink unpurified water (water that has not been cleaned with special chemicals).

  • Do wash your hands often with soap and purified or bottled water. Hand washing helps prevent the spread of traveler's diarrhea to others.

  • Do drink bottled water. You may also drink soda pop or other flavored drinks that come in bottles.

  • Do use bottled water or a mouthwash solution when brushing your teeth. Use purified or bottled water to wash foods. Do not use tap (faucet) water unless you know that it is purified.

  • Do not eat raw food such as lettuce or uncooked fruit unless you washed and peeled it yourself. Do not eat raw foods that were peeled by a street vendor.

  • Do not eat raw or undercooked meat and seafood. Eat grilled or steaming hot, well-cooked meats and seafood instead. Avoid milk, ice cream and other dairy products.

  • Do not put ice in your drinks. When in a restaurant, order your drinks to be served to you without ice cubes.

For more information:

Before you travel, ask your caregiver if you need any vaccinations (immunization shots). Learn about the safeness of food and water, and common diseases in the country you plan to visit. Contact the following organizations to learn more about traveler's diarrhea and sanitary (clean) conditions in other countries:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 800 - 232-4636
    Web Address: http://www.cdc.gov/
  • World Health Organization
    Web Address: www.who.int

Call your caregiver if:

  • You think are you becoming dehydrated. You may be dehydrated if you have a dry mouth, or you feel thirsty, dizzy, or lightheaded. You may also pass little or no urine.

  • Your diarrhea lasts for more than seven days.

  • You see mucus or worms in your BM.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have a bloody BM.

  • You have pain in your abdomen (belly) that is getting worse.

  • You are too weak to stand up.

  • Your baby or toddler gets diarrhea, or you get severe diarrhea.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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