What Is Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD)?
Travelers’ diarrhea (TD) is diarrhea in people who are or recently returned from traveling. It’s the most common illness in travelers. Each year between 20% and 50% of international travelers, about 10 million people, develop TD. Three or more unformed (meaning no separate pieces) stools (bowel movements) in 24 hours mean TD. In most cases, TD runs its course without complications, with 90% of cases going away within 1 week, and 98% within 1 month.
What Causes TD?
The usual cause is bacteria, but viruses and parasites can also cause TD. It’s usually related to travel in developing countries with a contaminated water supply.
What Are the Symptoms of TD?
Most symptoms start suddenly. Symptoms include diarrhea (unformed bowel movements), cramps and tenderness in the abdomen (belly), and sometimes nausea or vomiting and fever. Stools are often large and watery, and may contain mucus or blood. Babies (who usually have frequent bowel movements) may have TD if they have stools twice as often or more often than normal over 2 to 3 days.
How Is TD Diagnosed?
The health care provider will suspect TD on the basis of the medical history, recent travel, and physical examination.
For severe TD or for bloody stool the health care provider may order a stool culture. In this test, a small amount of stool is checked to find the cause. Additional tests may also be done.
How Is TD Treated?
Prevention is best. Drink bottled water. Avoid ice cubes when traveling and undercooked foods and raw fruits and vegetables. TD usually stops after 5 to 7 days without lasting effects. Drinking enough clear fluids is important, because diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Fluids are especially important for infants and young children, who can easily become dehydrated. A liquid that contains added substances such as electrolytes in water may be suggested. Pregnant women, older people, and people who are ill with another disease need to be careful about replacing fluids.
For severe or worsening symptoms, the health care provider may prescribe an antibiotic or other drug. Knowing the area of travel helps the health care provider pick the best medicine.
Sometimes, the health care provider may suggest seeing a gastroenterologist (specialist in bowel diseases) if the diarrhea persists.
DOs and DON’Ts in Managing TD:
- DO drink enough fluids.
- DO avoid buffets.
- DO be careful about fluid intake in children, elderly people, pregnant women, and people with other illnesses
- DO wash your hands every time you use the toilet.
- DO call your health care provider if you get a high temperature, have blood in your bowel movement, or get severe abdominal pain.
- DO make sure that the water you drink isn’t contaminated. In certain parts of the world, use only bottled water that is well sealed when you get it. Be careful of tap water, ice, unpasteurized milk, and dairy products.
- DO wash all fruits and vegetables carefully in uncontaminated water. Avoid undercooked meat and seafood.
- DON’T wait to talk to your health care provider if you have blood or mucus in your stools or have a high temperature.
- DON’T swim in contaminated water.
- DON’T take medicine that may be offered to you as a cure unless a health care provider ordered it. Some of these drugs may make TD worse.
Contact the following source:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Tel: (800) 311-3435