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  Traveler diarrhea

Traveler’s diarrhea is diarrhea that affects travelers when the go to a new location, whether it is within the same country or to a new country. Symptoms are severe abdominal cramps and loose stools. Nicknames for this disease are Tut’s tummy, Montezuma’s revenge and tourista. It is more annoying than life threatenting.

Traveler diarrhea
Traveler diarrhea


Traveler’s Diarrhea is almost always due to an infectious agent that has been ingested. It can be aggravated by jet lag, fatigue, stress or change in diet.

Food or water that is contaminated by organism from feces are infectious agents that can cause travelers diarrhea. These agents can be bacteria, parasites, or viruses, which the traveler has no defense against. Native members of the population have developed a natural defense to these common agents in their food and drinking water.

The most common cause of traveler’s diarrhea is the bacteria E. coli – also known as Escherichia coli. The bacteria release a toxin that causes cramping and loose stools.


This disease usually begins during the first few days of a trip or holiday – or even when returning home. The symptoms for traveler’s diarrhea are increased volume, timing and weight of stools, looser stools – four or more per day, cramping in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, bloating and fever. If dehydration occurs, bloody stools or continuous vomiting with a high fever, medical advice needs to be sought. Children should visit a doctor, if the symptoms last more than two days. Traveler’s diarrhea usually clears up on its own four days after symptoms have begun. Unfortunately a traveler can have multiple episodes of this diarrhea throughout the trip.


Traveler’s diarrhea can cause the loss of vital fluids, minerals and salts leading to dehydration. This can be serious for children. An oral rehydration solution should be consumed to replace lost fluids. These solutions should contain carbohydrates such as glucose, minerals and salts. Bottled rehydration fluids such as Gatorade should be available at drugstores or pharmacies. Powder formulas may also be available, but must be mixed with clean, safe water.

A home recipe for rehydration fluid is: ½ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of baking soda, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 liter of safe, clean drinking water. These measurements are approximate. This solution is only for temporary use to re-hydrate the body during bouts of traveler’s diarrhea. The solution should be consumed in small amounts during the day with solid foods, formula or breast milk in the case of infants.

If traveler’s diarrhea does not resolve itself, there are other options to relieve the symptoms and return to health. Antimotility agents such as Imodium, Lomotil or opiates such as codeine will provide temporary relief, slowing the time of food moving through the digestive tract, allowing for better nutrient absorption. These are not recommended for patients with bloody stools or infants, because infectious organisms will build up in the system – when they should be expelled as soon as possible. This may make the patient sicker. Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) is an over the counter medicatin that decreases the number of bowel movements and can shorten the length of the episode. This medication is not recommended for pregnant women, children or people with aspirin allergies. Antibiotics may also be prescribed by a physician to kill off any infectious agents that are causing the diarrhea.

Before traveling to countries that are known for traveler’s diarrhea it is a good idea to consult a physician. Some medications or remedies offered in a new country may be unsafe or dangerous. There are tips to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. The common recommendation is boil food, cook food or peel food or forget the food! Here are some other safety tips, avoid street vendor food, unpasteurized dairy products – including ice cream and cheese, raw food or undercooked meat, fish and shellfish, and buffets. Make sure that the vegetables and fruit are clean and peeled by the person consuming them. Wash hands regularly, and avoid water from the tap or wells, including ice cubes or freshly made juices, use bottle water as much as possible, even when brushing teeth and order hot beverages, if they are made with water.

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