What is traveller’s diarrhoea?
Traveller’s diarrhoea is a disorder of the digestive tract caused by the consumption of contaminated water or food. The most common pathogen causing this disease is Escherichia coli bacteria, followed by Campylobacter jejuni bacteria. This condition can also be caused by viral pathogens such as noroviruses and rotaviruses and by parasites such as Cyclospora cayetanesis. Although it is an uncomfortable disease, in most cases it is not serious.
Traveller’s diarrhoea is the most common preventable travel-related illness, with a rate ranging from 30% to 70%, depending on the destination. This condition can occur in any region of the world, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the world is divided into three categories according to the level of risk:
- Low risk: United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Northern and Western Europe.
- Intermediate risk: Eastern Europe, South Africa and some Caribbean islands.
- High risk: Asia, Middle East and Mexico, as well as Central and South America.
What are the symptoms of traveller’s diarrhoea?
Common symptoms include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Soft stools
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach inflammation
If left untreated, bacterial diarrhoea usually lasts for 3-7 days. Viral diarrhoea usually lasts 2 to 3 days. Diarrhoea caused by parasites can last for weeks or months in the absence of treatment.
Depending on the intensity of the infection, diarrhoea can be classified as mild, described as tolerable; medium, that which interferes with normal and severe activities, in which the patient is incapacitated.
What is the treatment for traveller’s diarrhoea?
First, people who experience traveller’s diarrhoea should make sure they maintain adequate hydration. Drinking fluids containing electrolytes is recommended, especially for children or older adults. If severe fluid loss is experienced, it is essential to supplement hydration with oral salt solutions. In some cases, it is also helpful to take medications such as loperamide or antibiotics.
What is the risk of traveller’s diarrhoea?
CDDs report that traveller’s diarrhoea is more common in young adults than in older adults. The risk is greatest for people who live in or visit warm climates where access to sanitation is poor. Areas where the power supply is inadequate may also be sources of infection because food cannot be adequately refrigerated. Hygiene standards in food preparation are also a factor to consider.
How to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea?
Caution when consuming water and/or food:
- Eat only foods that are properly cooked and served hot.
- If you are going to eat fruits or vegetables, be sure to wash and peel them yourself.
- Drink liquids from a reliable source, such as water and bottled juices.
- Avoid ice in drinks if you don’t know their origin.
- Use utensils, dishes and glasses that are clean and dry.
- Wash your hands often. After using the bathroom and before eating, don’t forget to wash your hands with soap. If you don’t have it or don’t trust the water cleanup, opt for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.