Traveller's diarrhea

Traveller's diarrhea

This is a illness frequently encountered in most holiday destination countries. The germs responsible for traveller’s diarrhea belong to different families and have specific actions: bacteria (the most common of which are Escherichia Coli, Shigelles and Salmonella), viruses (Rotavirus, Adenovirus, Enterovirus) and parasites (amoebas for example).

Several combination factors can cause traveller’s diarrhea:

  • Food and drink : all forms of water (uncapped bottled water, ice-cream, ice…), unpeeled or uncooked fruits and vegetables, salads and raw vegetables, dairy products that have endured an interruption in the cold chain or that are unpasteurized, raw meats, delicatessen meats, eggs…

  • Hygiene and lifestyle: hands that are not washed thoroughly and regularly, a change in food and sanitary habits.

The risks of infection are significant throughout the African continent, in Asia, Central America, and Latin America and in countries around the Mediterranean. Inform yourself about the risks in the countries you are planning to visit.

In most cases, the diarrhea occurs 3-7 days after the trip begins and tends to be more aggravating than serious. It can, however, hide another illness that necessitates a different treatment (malaria, viral hepatitis, abdominal emergency…).

Traveller’s diarrhea is defined as having more than 3 non-solid stools a day, which are sometimes accompanied by mucus and blood, and associated with sensations of discomfort, abdominal pains, nausea or vomiting. Traveller’s diarrhea can bring on a fever, chills or shivers, headaches, joint pains, intense fatigue and a lack of desire to eat, especially in young children or the elderly. If these symptoms persist or do not improve within 48 hours, consult a doctor, particularly in situations where the patient has pre-existing heart trouble, renal deficiency or diabetes.

Treatment largely depends on rehydration via capped and bottled drinks, preferably rich in sugar; for example, a soda that has been stirred with a spoon to eliminate the bubbles. A doctor will be able to adapt a treatment to your particular needs and holiday destination. On rare occasions and in case of major dehydration, vomiting, which makes normal eating through the mouth impossible, or the risk of contamination by a potentially dangerous germ in the travel region, the person may need to be hospitalised so additional tests to find the responsible germ can be carried out and the appropriate treatment can be prescribed.

Prevention is essential for this type of illness. Here are a few easy-to-follow recommendations to reduce the risks of contamination: Wash your hands before and after each meal, after using the toilets and before going to bed at night, Watch what you eat: drink from capped bottles and do not take ice. Peel fruits and avoid raw vegetables, Only eat well-cooked foods, Only eat dairy products that clearly indicate where they were manufactured and that have not suffered an interruption in the cold chain. If you have any problem while travelling, don’t wait until you get home to consult a doctor. The regulating doctor of your assistance company is available to discuss any questions or doubts you may have about your health. He/she can provide useful advice, contact your family doctor and organize a consultation wherever you are.

Dehydration caused by diarrhea constitutes a major vital risk for children, pregnant women and elderly people. It is therefore critical to consult a doctor. A short stay in a local hospital will often be required.