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What is Traveler’s Diarrhea?

Traveler’s Diarrhea is also known as “food poisoning” and is the most common illness international travelers experience.  Consequently, up to 70% of people traveling to some countries get sick from food or beverage contamination.  Many different germs can cause symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea but common bacteria like Salmonella or E-coli are often responsible. 

Many travelers agree that food is an integral part of culture.  While experiencing local tastes may be a priority, don’t spend your dream vacation in the bathroom!  Destination Health will discuss prevention and treatment options during your appointment to ensure you have a plan in place. 

Keep in mind, your travel destination may include risk for other food and water illnesses like Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, and Cholera.  So while it’s important to have a plan on how to manage traveler’s diarrhea,  it’s equally important to immunize before departure.

Bad hand hygiene and improperly cooked food can cause traveler's diarrhea. Don't leave without a plan in case it happens to you. Talk to a travel health specialist before your trip.
Enjoy new cuisines while traveling abroad with caution, if foods are not cooked or handled properly they can cause traveler's diarrhea

Why is Traveler’s Diarrhea So Common?

Bad hygiene, sanitation, and food handling practices from local restaurants and street vendors worldwide mean bacteria contaminate food frequently.  Avoid uncooked or raw foods and remember the old adage “boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.” Only drink purified water and beverages sealed from the manufacturer.  Avoid ice in drinks and wash your hands with soap and water before every meal. If soap is not available use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

In truth, much of the risk for traveler’s diarrhea is outside of your control. Because of this, every traveler should have a plan to deal with a bout of diarrhea or vomiting.

What Can I Do to Manage Symptoms?

Rehydration with purified fluids and electrolytes (not sugary drinks) often helps travelers recover quickly.  In cases where diarrhea is moderate or severe, using oral rehydration salts (ORS) is more effective, 

Short term use of loperamide (Immodium) to relieve frequency of diarrhea is a suggestion from CDC.  Additionally, bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) to reduce irritability and soothe the stomach may also help.  Before taking, be sure to read medication labels since they are not safe for everyone.

In rare but severe cases, taking antibiotics or antiparasitic prescription medications is necessary.

Avoid street foods that are not fully cooked and be sure to get your Typhoid Fever vaccine before traveling.

Is Salmonella Typhi the Same as Traveler’s Diarrhea?

Salmonella is a family of bacteria and exist in many forms.  One dangerous member of this family is Salmonella typhi, the specific bacteria responsible for typhoid fever infection. The Typhoid Fever vaccine only protects against Salmonella typhi bacteria.   Other types of Salmonella cause gastroenteritis, sometimes referred to as traveler’s diarrhea. 

While traveler’s diarrhea is unpleasant, symptoms typically resolve fully in a few days without hospitalization.  In contrast, infection with typhoid fever often results in severe disease and hospitalization.  As such, the Typhoid Fever vaccine is equally important as carefully choosing your food and beverages while on travels.

Common Travel Health Topics 

Prepare for your trip and protect your health by meeting with a travel health specialist at Destination Health Travel Clinic before departure. Learn about other common travel related diseases including Malaria, High Altitude Illness, and Travel Vaccinations

Do You Need Vaccines Too?

Your travel destination may put you at risk for common food and water diseases like Hepatitis A vaccine and Typhoid Fever.  For those traveling to off-the-beaten-path locations or for humanitarian reasons, consider the Cholera vaccine.