Has it ever struck when traveling somewhere new and different? Maybe you thought nothing of it, but chances are it was traveler’s diarrhea. This is a digestive tract disorder that usually causes loose stools and stomach cramping. It stems from ingesting contaminated food or drinking water. The good news is traveler’s diarrhea is usually not serious, just inconvenient!
Climate, social conditions, and sanitary standards are all factors that affect your likelihood of getting this unpleasant disorder while traveling. After all, you are not at home! With that being said, exercise caution when eating and drinking funky things on a trip. The most common signs and symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea include:
- Sudden occurrence of 3 or more loose stools per day
- Fecal urgency
Although stress and diet change can play a role, contaminated food and water is usually to blame for traveler’s diarrhea. The contamination is a result of infectious agents like bacteria, viruses and parasites which enter your digestive tract and knock out your defense mechanisms. ETEC bacteria (enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli) are the most common cause; these bacteria attach to the lining of your intestine and release a toxin, causing diarrhea and stomach cramps. That does not sound like fun!
Destination is primarily what determines your chance of getting traveler’s diarrhea. However, these groups of people have a greater risk of developing it than others:
- Young adults
- Those with weaker immune systems
- Diabetes or IBD patients
- Those who take acid blockers or antacids
- Seasonal travelers
As far as location, you are at the highest risk for infection in these areas when traveling to Central and South America, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, and select Caribbean islands. Now that you know where your chances are highest of getting traveler’s diarrhea, plan your travels accordingly. Symptoms usually go away within a few days, but you should seek medical help if you experience severe dehydration, vomiting that won’t stop, bloody stools, or high fever.
Dr. Landon Weeks will be discussing this topic on the radio station WSJS Wednesday, May 18th 2016 so be sure to tune in and hear what he has to say!