HEALTH TIPS: HOW TO AVOID AND TREAT TRAVELERS DIARRHEA
Traveller’s diarrhea is perhaps the most common health problem faced by travelers. Learn more about its symptoms, how to treat it and, above all, how to avoid it. Bali Belly, Delhi Belly, The Pharaoh’s Curse, Montezuma’s Revenge, The Rangoon Runs or Travelers Diarrhea: whatever you call it. It also doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Traveller’s diarrhea can leave you stuck on the bathroom or even worse, in a hospital bed. The condition is caused by consuming contaminated food or water, and it can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea.
How does it spread?
There are different causes of traveller’s diarrhea. However, it is mainly spread through contaminated food and water. However, it can also come from poor hygiene practices. For example, the cleanliness of restaurants, etc.
- Bacteria: such as E.Coli, Salmonella, Shigella and Camphylobacter tend to be the main culprits of traveler’s bacterial diarrhea.
- Viral: This type of diarrhea is usually caused by an anorovirus or rotavirus.
- Parasites: Parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. They can be found in contaminated water. These cause intestinal issues that can leave you with a lasting memory of your trip.
- Dysentery: usually caused by Shigella sp. of bacteria. This is the severe end of the diarrhea scale and a medical emergency.
Where can you contract it?
The risk of contracting travellers’ diarrhea is higher in places where sanitation and hygiene standards are not high. This is for example the case of certain regions of Asia, Africa and South America. This is also the case in Central America and the Middle East. Your travel insurance will tell you: you can get traveller’s diarrhea anytime, anywhere.
Traveller’s diarrhea usually clears up within a few days. However, if you have traveller’s diarrhea for more than 48 hours or have severe symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. A few signs that you have reached this stage include blood in the diarrhea (dysentery). There may also be high fever, chills, skin lesions, and severe abdominal cramps.
These are all signs that bacteria are invading the body by penetrating the intestinal lining. So there is a good chance that you will need antibiotics and/or intravenous fluids.
Symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea include the following signs:
- Abdominal pain
- Feel bloated
- Continual feeling of needing to use the bathroom
- Loose and watery stools
- Slight fever
The biggest problem with diarrhea is dehydration. Therefore, the first step in its treatment is oral rehydration. Not only does rehydration require more water than you might think, but it also requires electrolytes in that water. If you have traveller’s diarrhea, you will need to drink at least three quarts (3 liters) a day to replace lost fluids.
A sports drink (Gatorade, Powerade, Lucozade, etc.) often works well. In addition, several glasses of it should be drunk each day you experience symptoms. If you can’t find a sports drink, you can make your own. Take a pinch of salt and a few spoons of sugar mixed in a glass of clean water. Even if you vomit all the liquids, keep drinking! Some of the liquid enters your body.
If you live in a hot climate, you may need to see a doctor for intravenous fluids. Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
There is no vaccine available against travellers’ diarrhea. Your travel insurance will confirm this.
Medicines for diarrhea
The use of loperamide (Imodium) is controversial. Although loperamide prevents diarrhea, this is not always a good thing. If a traveler has a particularly strong, invasive infection, you are essentially trapping the bacteria in the gut/colon. This is where they can cause the most damage.
Diarrhea is the body’s way of excreting these harmful microbes. Travelers who do not know the cause of their diarrhea should use loperamide with caution. Indeed, they can do more harm than good.
Medications to treat traveler’s diarrhea include the quinolone family. This is particularly the case with ciprofloxacin. Some areas of the world are developing resistance to this antibiotic. This is why azithromycin is considered a good alternative.
Talk to your doctor before departure from the possibility of taking a supply of antibiotics with you. This is just in case you develop a severe case of traveller’s diarrhea. These drugs should not be taken as a preventive measure, but stick to them to take them in case of symptoms.
Can’t afford to be slowed down by diarrhea (business meetings, honeymoon, sporting event, etc.)? Talk to your doctor about using bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) as a preventative. Taking two tablets each morning and two tablets each night has been shown to decrease rates of traveller’s diarrhea. However, this can only be taken for the short term, i.e. up to three weeks.
Severe constipation can also result. This option may not be suitable for everyone. So, talk to your doctor before using it. This will save you any repatriation or trip cancellation due to health concerns.
Here are some tips on how to avoid and treat traveler’s diarrhea:
Good personal hygiene and taking precautions are good methods of prevention. When you eat or drink, these precautions can help you avoid traveller’s diarrhea. Always wash your hands with clean water and soap. When this is not possible, use an antibacterial hand gel. The mantra “boil it, bake it, peel it or forget it” should never be forgotten.
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1. Avoid drinking tap water
Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled or treated with water purification tablets. Be careful with ice cubes as they may have been made from tap water. Drink only clean water that you know has been treated, purified, or comes from sealed bottles or cans. Beware of pre-cut fruits and vegetables that may not have been washed in clean water before sale. Avoid ice in drinks unless you know where the water comes from to make it.
2. Be cautious with food
Avoid eating food from street vendors and be careful with raw or undercooked meat, fish, and eggs. Stick to hot and freshly cooked food. Street food is something everyone should try while traveling. Unfortunately, there are things to watch out for. If the place looks dirty, chances are the food is also contaminated. Your travel insurance may advise you to cook your food well before eating it.
3. Wash your hands regularly
Wash your hands with soap and water, especially before eating or preparing food.
4. Take probiotics
Taking probiotics, which are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your gut health, can help prevent traveler’s diarrhea. They can be found in supplement form or in certain foods such as yogurt.
5. Stay hydrated
It’s important to stay hydrated if you have traveler’s diarrhea. Drink plenty of water, oral rehydration solutions, or clear broths to help replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
6. Over-the-counter medications
Over-the-counter medications such as loperamide can be used to treat diarrhea. Anti-bacterial medications such as antibiotics can be prescribed by a doctor if the diarrhea is severe or persists for several days.
If you experience symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea, it’s important to rest and stay hydrated. If symptoms persist or become severe, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Tip: If you are unsure of the cleanliness of cutlery or chopsticks, wipe them down. For example, use a small amount of antibacterial gel for this. Also use a towel or handkerchief before use. Finally, to cover your security needs, consider choosing international travel insurance.
Information: Cleverly Smart is not a substitute for a doctor. Always consult a doctor to treat your health condition.
Sources: PinterPandai, VillaCarissaSeminyak, Mayo Clinic, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Web MD
Photo credit: Pxhere (CC0 Public Domain)