Travelers' Diarrhea

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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9 Tips to Prevent Travelers' Diarrhea

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD

Travelers' diarrhea strikes up to half of all international travelers. It is far and away the most common travel-related illness, affecting about 10 million people per year worldwide. Infectious agents, particularly bacteria from water contaminated with feces, cause travelers' diarrhea. The most commonly identified bacteria associated with travelers' diarrhea are what are called ETEC, or enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli.

The destination is the most important risk factor for the development of travelers' diarrhea. Developing countries all over the world represent the highest risk, and the highest-risk destinations are the developing countries of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Certain groups of people are also more likely to develop travelers' diarrhea. At-risk groups include:

  • immunosuppressed persons,
  • those with diabetes, and
  • persons with inflammatory bowel diseases.

Quick GuideTravel Health Pictures Slideshow: Vaccines & Preventing Diseases Abroad

Travel Health Pictures Slideshow: Vaccines & Preventing Diseases Abroad

Travelers' diarrhea facts

  • Travelers' diarrhea is a gastrointestinal illness that occurs in travelers.
  • Travelers' diarrhea usually is caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria or, less commonly, with parasites or viruses.
  • The treatment of travelers' diarrhea is usually plenty of oral liquids as well as over-the-counter medications that control diarrhea and cramps.
  • Antibiotic prophylaxis (prevention) for travelers' diarrhea is available but is not recommended generally.
  • The prognosis of travelers' diarrhea is good. It is rarely fatal, and most cases resolve within a week.

What is travelers' diarrhea?

Travelers' diarrhea is defined by most experts as three or more unformed stools in a 24 hour time period, passed by a person who is traveling. Travelers' diarrhea is commonly accompanied by abdominal cramps, nausea, and bloating. Travelers' diarrhea is a general term and does not specify any cause. Travelers' from temperate regions of the world frequently experience diarrhea four days to two weeks after arriving in certain other areas of the world. Other terms used to describe this illness include "Montezuma's Revenge," the "Aztec Two Step," and "Turista" in Mexico, the "Delhi Belly" in India, and the "Hong Kong Dog" in the Far East.

How common is travelers' diarrhea?

Twenty percent to fifty percent of travelers may develop diarrhea depending on the region of the world they visit. Diarrhea is the most common illness of travelers, affecting 10 million people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In general, travelers at risk for diarrhea commonly come from industrialized nations and travel to high-risk areas that are primarily within developing or less industrialized nations of the world, including Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Areas of lesser risk include China and some Caribbean nations. Travel to areas of the United States, Canada, Northern Europe, and Australia pose the lowest risk to travelers.

Men and women are at equal risk for developing travelers' diarrhea. Younger individuals are more commonly afflicted, perhaps because of more adventurous eating habits. People with disorders that compromise their immune system (such as HIV, cancer, chemotherapy, steroid use), people with diabetes, and people with underlying abdominal disorders (irritable bowel syndrome, colitis) are more susceptible to travelers' diarrhea. People taking acid blockers for their stomachs (for example, famotidine [Pepcid], cimetidine [Tagamet], omeprazole [Prilosec], esomeprazole [Nexium]) also have a higher susceptibility to travelers' diarrhea because they have less stomach acid to protect them from the bacteria that cause the condition.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/16/2016
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