Of all the illnesses that can strike when you’re away from home, none spoils more trips than traveler’s diarrhea, the most common travel illness. Many a vacation or business trip can be saved by understanding how diarrhea is contracted and how easy it is to prevent.
As near as your next meal
Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea are caused by bacteria. However, parasites, viruses, and fungi can also be the cause. Children younger than age 2 are at high risk for contracting diarrhea. The greatest danger to infants is dehydration, even in mild cases. Although some areas of the world are considered high-risk for traveler’s diarrhea, no one who practices poor personal hygiene or eats and drinks potentially contaminated food is safe.
The best way to prevent diarrhea is to avoid behaviors that increase your risk. This includes making sure foods are cooked thoroughly and served piping hot. High-risk foods, such a s seafood, should be avoided, as should water supplies outside norther Europe, North America, Australia, and Japan. Parasitic diarrhea can also be contracted by walking barefoot in contaminated areas.
Oral replacement therapy with fluids containing salt and glucose (sugar) is important for countering dehydration. If symptoms are severe, rehydration must be quick and plentiful. Easily digested foods such as rice, bananas, gelatin, salted crackers, and dry toast can also be given. Breast-fed infants should be allowed to continue nursing on demand.
Currently, there are no vaccines for traveler’s diarrhea. Prevention is the best medicine. The following list of practical DOs and DON’Ts can help ensure that your trip is enjoyable:
- Drink beverages made with boiled water, or that come in sealed cans or bottles
- Wipe excess water from any container before you drink
- Bring your own straws
- Eat hot, well-cooked foods
- Eat fruits, vegetables, and nuts that you can peel or that have a thick, intact skin or shell
- Make sure all dairy products have been boiled or pasteurized
- Drink or brush your teeth with tap water
- Use ice cubes made from local water
- Eat raw or undercooked vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood, or cold salads
- Eat food from street vendors or buffet meals served outside in the hot sun