Traveller’s diarrhoea is a fairly common illness picked up by people travelling to developing countries where they may be exposed to contaminated food or water. The symptoms of traveller’s diarrhoea can be mild or severe and can last for several days. Traveller's diarrhoea is most commonly caused by the bacteria E. Coli (Escherichia Coli), although other bacterial and viral infections can also be the cause. Parasites, such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium can cause a more severe form of Traveller's Diarrhoea that usually lasts longer and may result in blood in the stools. In some cases, traveller's diarrhoea or abdominal cramping may just be the result of your body reacting to unfamiliar foods and micro-organisms.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The symptoms of traveller's diarrhoea include diarrhoea (loose, watery stools), urgency to go to the toliet, nausea and/or vomitting, abdominal cramping and/or bloating, fever, tiredness and a general feeling of being unwell.
HOW CAN IT BE PREVENTED?
There is no specific vaccine against traveller’s diarrhoea, but there is very good evidence to suggest that the oral (drinkable) cholera vaccine provides useful protection against the bacteria E. coli which causes the illness. Prevention through safe hygiene and eating habits is also highly recommended to avoid consuming food and water contaminated with infective bacteria:
- choose fruit and vegetables that you can peel. Avoid raw fruit and vegetables that have already been peeled or that may have been washed in contaminated water.
- avoid any meats that may be raw or undercooked
- avoid foods that have been pre-cooked and left to sit at room-temperature
- avoid unpasteurised dairy foods, such as milk
- food from street vendors and buffet cabinets pose a particularly high risk of contamination - be careful when choosing to eat from strret vendors or buffets
- if the quality of the local water supply is unknown use only bottled water, including when you brush your teeth, avoid ice-cubes, and avoid eating any raw foods that may have been washed in the water
- use safe hygiene practices - wash you hands with soap and water before eating or preparing any food and especially after using the toilet
- be sure that plates and utensils are completely dry before using them
- talk with other travellers and choose reputable and clean places to eat
HOW CAN IT BE TREATED?
Treatment focuses on reducing the symptoms of traveller's diarrhoea and preventing complications, such as dehydration. The illness itself is usually self-limiting, that is, it will usually run its own course and be gone within 3-5 days. Even if you are feeling extremely unwell it is vitally important to stay hydrated by drinking as much clean water as possible. This is expecially important if the weather is hot and for the very young and the elderly who may be at more risk of serious complication from dehydration. Oral rehydration drinks can be useful in replacing lost electrolytes and may help you feel better. Paracetamol for fever can be useful as can antibiotics for bacterial infection. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best ways to prevent the risk of traveller's diarrhoea on your next holiday and offer you suggestions for items to include in a travel health first aide kit.