Nobody likes it and certainly it’s a topic that nobody like to talk about, but it happens. If you are one of the many to experience traveller’s diarrhea (TD) you know it can be an embarrassing trip-ruining tragedy. Travelers' diarrhea (TD) is the most common illness affecting travelers. Each year an estimated 10 million persons develop diarrhea. Where will you be when TD strikes? On a jungle tour high in the mountains with facilities less than desirable, basking in the sun enjoying the cool breeze on a catamaran in the middle of the sea or perhaps in a crowded city where you can’t read any of the signs? Hopefully in the comfort and privacy of your own hotel room, but chances are – probably not. So here are some facts that can hopefully help you understand traveller’s diarrhea and maybe even prevent it while you are travelling.
1. 3 Main Causes of Traveller’s Diarrhea
There are three different causes of traveler’s diarrhea, they are bacteria, viruses and parasites. Bacteria is the most common cause and it’s found worldwide. Nowadays there are vaccinations for the most common kinds of bacteria. Viruses are less common and it’s wise to do your research to see if viruses such as Norwalk or rotavirus are prevalent in the area you will be visiting. Parasites are the least common, usually acquired from drinking from streams, unpurified or untreated water.
2. Does the Destination Matter?
Some traveller’s think they can avoid TD by sticking to so called safe countries that are known as ‘First World’. Although it is not as common it can happen in these countries as well. There are however countries that have increased risk for traveller’s diarrhea. Unfortunately many of the countries notorious for TD include popular resort destinations where travelers are celebrating weddings, honeymoons and enjoying family vacations. These include:
- Central and South America
- Caribbean Islands
3. Boil It, Cook It, Peel It or Forget It
The traveler's mantra, attributed to colonial explorers, goes something like this: "Cook it, wash it, peel it or forget it." Freshly cooked foods are less likely to acquire airborne contaminants, and raw foods such as salads, and fruits and vegetables without peels, are often likely culprits for trouble. Fruits and vegetables you can peel yourself are usually safe. Condiments such as mayonnaise, ketchup and salad dressings are safest in sealed packages. Order portions "well done" or at least "medium well," and eat them only if served hot. Be careful especially of runny eggs and sandwiches with lots of raw vegetables. Beer and wine in other countries may contain more or less alcohol content than in the United States. Pay attention to the effects of all drinks. Moderation is the safest course of action.
4. Eat Like A Local
It may be convenient, but it's often risky to purchase food from street vendors. Be sure your dish is served hot, and take a look at the cart or kiosk before ordering. Does it look clean and well kept? Is it busy? (The fewer the customers, the longer the food may sit before being served.) When choosing a restaurant, the advice is similar: Go with the people flow. Busy restaurants typically serve fresh, clean and safe food and you better believe that the locals hate the runs as much as you. Still, ask that your meal be cooked well, and take normal precautions.
5. Most Times There Is Nothing to Worry About
Although it’s uncomfortable and can lead to many trips to some unique public restrooms, usually traveller’s diarrhea is nothing to worry about. Usually it will resolve itself on its own within five days. Most severe cases that require hospitalization happen due to dehydration. So its important to keep hydrated and seek medical attention immediately if TD is accompanied by large amount of blood/plus fever or severe abdominal pain.
6. Don’t Try To Stop It
This is not the kind of runs you get from eating too much greasy food and it won’t be solved with anti-diarrheal products. Those products like Pepto-Bismol or Imodium slow diarrhea, but they don’t actually correct the problem. Unfortunately, the only way to solve the issue is to get whatever is causing it out.
Eating certain foods and drinking plenty of fluids can help. The best foods to eat for diarrhea are bland foods that will stop you up. When diarrhea hits, you want to add bulk without adding irritation or distress. This can be accomplished by eating a very select diet until the diarrhea subsides. Bananas are great for stopping diarrhea because they are heavy, bulky and yet non-irritating to the digestive system.
Rice works as an excellent filler. It is bland and calming. It will bind well and slow down the production of more diarrhea. Applesauce is easy to digest and adds helpful bulk. The toast will soak up any extra stomach acid, reducing the stomach's tendency to overproduce acid during a case of diarrhea. Foods you may want to avoid until you've experienced relief for a solid six hours, it's best to avoid dairy products, caffeine, spice foods, fried foods, oils or any type, sugary foods or high fiber vegetables and fruits. Keep it bland and solid until you feel better for several hours.
7. Can It Be Transmitted Easily
If you find yourself dealing with traveller’s diarrhea and you’re the only one in your group you may feel they lucked out. However it is very possible that you’re travelling companions can get TD from you. If possible avoid touching foods that others intend to eat until two full days after your symptoms have stopped, the bacteria can survive on your skin and it can be transferred. Keep in mind that TD is not always the fault of common food or drink. The bacteria that cause TD can live for days on objects such as handrails or doorknobs. So advice, straight from the mouths of moms everywhere: Wash your hands, wash your hands and if washing isn't possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol to clean your hands.
8. It May Be Going Home With You
While most traveller’s diarrhea occurs within a few days into your trip, it may actually take up to two weeks before symptoms occur. So even though you may have escaped it during your vacation does not mean you won’t have to experience it at all. And if you do get traveller’s diarrhea once you are home consider it a blessing, as you will get to deal with it in the comfort of your own bathroom and you will be the envy of many.
9. There Is Hope
There is good news for people who are visiting areas that are prone to traveller’s diarrhea. The longer you spend in the area the more familiar your body is going to become with its bacteria. So dealing with TD can strengthen your immune system towards the bacteria and hopefully you won’t have to experience multiple bouts of TD. There is also extra measures one can consider when it comes to this trip-ruiner. Before your trip consult with a doctor or Pharmacist if prescription or over the counter oral vaccines like Dukoral or Travelan may be right for you. These vaccines paired with the preventative measures listed can help protect you against traveller’s diarrhea.