Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Traveler's Diarrhea

What causes traveler's diarrhea?

People get traveler's diarrhea by eating food and drinking water that contain germs. People can get this illness in areas of the world where drinking water is not clean.
Cooks and food handlers may have the germs that cause traveler's diarrhea on their hands, but they may not get sick themselves. In the same way, people who live in a place often drink tap water that contains these germs, but they do not get diarrhea. This is because their bodies are used to the germs. When people travel to a new place, they are more likely to become sick, because they lack protective antibodies (infection-fighting agents in the blood) that attack these germs.

How can I avoid traveler's diarrhea?

When you are visiting an area where the water may not be clean, you should be careful about these things:

What is safe to eat or drink?

When you are in a place where you could get traveler's diarrhea, you can feel safe eating or drinking the following:

If I get traveler's diarrhea, what should I drink?

If you get traveler's diarrhea, you need to replace the fluid you lose by drinking a rehydrating solution. If you cannot find a rehydrating solution, you should drink pasteurized fruit juices, caffeine-free soft drinks or bottled water, and you should eat salted crackers.

Should I use medicine to treat traveler's diarrhea?

Medicines you get from your doctor, such as diphenoxylate with atropine (brand name: Lomotil), and antidiarrheal medicines you can buy in a drugstore, such as loperamide (brand names: Imodium, Kaopectate, Maalox) or bismuth subsalicylate (brand name: Pepto-Bismol), often can make you feel better more quickly. You may also need antibiotics (medicines that kill bacteria). Medicines can be very helpful if you have diarrhea 3 or more times in less than 8 hours, and if you also have other problems, such as cramping, fever or blood in your stools (bowel movements). Before you go on a trip, ask your doctor what medicines to take if you get diarrhea.

While I am on my trip, should I take medicine every day so I won't get diarrhea?

Not usually. But you may want to talk about this with your doctor before you go on your trip. You may want to take an antibiotic every day if you will be on your trip for less than 2 weeks and if you have kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, AIDS or an illness that affects the digestive system.