How to Avoid Travelers’ Diarrhea
We’re about to bop off to French Polynesia and explore Tahiti, Bora Bora, and the Society Islands.
We’ve learned the hard way that the quality of the world’s water is not equal, and that a savvy baby boomer world traveler will pay attention to these matters or they’ll wind up spending their vacation to exotic destinations on the toilet.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), travelers’ diarrhea (TD) is the most common illness affecting travelers. Each year between 20%-50% of international travelers, an estimated 10 million persons, develop diarrhea.
The onset of TD usually occurs within the first week of travel but may occur at any time while traveling, and even after returning home.
20%-50% of International Travelers Develop Travelers’ Diarrhea!
The most important determinant of risk is the traveler’s destination. High-risk destinations are the developing countries of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Persons at particular high-risk include young adults, immunosuppressed persons, persons with inflammatory-bowel disease or diabetes, and persons taking H-2 blockers or antacids. Attack rates are similar for men and women. The primary source of infection is ingestion of fecally contaminated food or water.
What are the symptoms of travelers’ diarrhea?
Most TD cases begin abruptly. The illness usually results in increased frequency, volume, and weight of stool. Altered stool consistency also is common.
Typically, a traveler experiences four to five loose or watery bowel movements each day. Other commonly associated symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, fever, urgency, and malaise. Most cases are benign and resolve in 1-2 days without treatment. TD is rarely life-threatening. The natural history of TD is that 90% of cases resolve within 1 week, and 98% resolve within 1 month.
How can I prevent travelers’ diarrhea?
Travelers can minimize their risk for TD by practicing the following effective preventive measures:
- Avoid eating foods or drinking beverages purchased from street vendors or other establishments where unhygienic conditions are present
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat and seafood
- Avoid eating raw fruits (e.g., oranges, bananas, avocados) and vegetables unless the traveler peels them.
If handled properly well-cooked and packaged foods usually are safe.
Tap water, ice, unpasteurized milk, and dairy products are associated with increased risk for TD. Safe beverages include bottled carbonated beverages, hot tea or coffee, beer, wine, and water boiled or appropriately treated with iodine or chlorine.
Presumably, our resort destination and cruise ship have thought this matter through fairly carefully as I’m certain that it is no fun for them to have sick travelers on their hands.
Nonetheless, we will be practicing caution as we really don’t care to see Bora Bora primarily from the bathroom.
Have you ever experienced travelers’ diarrhea? If so, where were you traveling?
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