What is traveler’s diarrhea?

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Traveler’s diarrhea is an infection involving the stomach and intestine due to unsanitary food handling. Food handlers who do not thoroughly wash hands after using the bathroom can spread the infection to those who consume the contaminated food.

The usual culprit for traveler’s diarrhea is E. coli. One is at high risk for the condition when travelling to developing countries where sanitary measures are not strictly implemented.


  • Sudden onset of diarrhea
    One is at high risk for the condition when travelling to developing countries where sanitary measures are not strictly implemented.
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Bloating
  • Explosive and painful gas
  • Urge to have bowel movements
  • Malaise

Generally, the condition only lasts for 3-7 days and rarely life-threatening.

Management of traveler’s diarrhea

Similar with other diseases, a doctor must be consulted first, especially if pregnant or a child is affected.

Preventive approach

Before travelling, Pepto-Bismol can be taken to prevent diarrhea. Remember that this should not be used longer than 3 weeks. If used as treatment, it reduces the frequency and shortens the length of the illness.


The treatment for traveler’s diarrhea involves fluid and salt replacement. This is achieved by using an oral rehydration solution such as oral rehydration salts (ORS) solution. The packets are available in pharmacies or stores in almost all developing countries.

ORS is prepared by adding a packet to treated or boiled water. Carefully following the instructions to ensure that the salts are added to the right amount of water. The solution should be consumed within 12 hours if stored at room temperature or within 24 hours if refrigerated.

An over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication can lower the number of stools but can lead to complications among those with serious infections.

When to consult a doctor

It is vital to seek medical attention if:

  • Diarrhea is severe, blood-streaked or does not settle within a few days
  • Individual could not retain any fluids consumed
  • Fever and chills

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