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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What is the prognosis for travelers' diarrhea?

The prognosis for travelers' diarrhea is usually good. Most cases resolve within 2 days without treatment. The CDC estimates 90% of cases resolve within one week, and 98% resolve within one month. Travelers' diarrhea is rarely fatal.

How can travelers' diarrhea be prevented?

Since food is the major source of infection, close attention to diet is of foremost importance in the prevention of travelers' diarrhea. Foods should be well-cooked and served warm. Raw vegetables, uncooked meat or seafood, and other foods maintained at room temperature should be avoided. Dairy products, tap water and ice (including frozen drinks not made from filtered water) are also high-risk foods. Carbonated beverages, beer and wine, hot coffee and tea, fruits that can be peeled, and canned products generally are safe. The risk for developing diarrhea increases when eating at restaurants and when purchasing food from street vendors. Also, frequent hand washing with soap and clean water will decrease the likelihood of the bacteria's spread, especially to other people that the person may be traveling with.

Antibiotics can be effective in preventing travelers' diarrhea, but are not recommended for most people due to possible side effects (see "How is Travelers' Diarrhea Treated?").

Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) also can be effective in preventing diarrhea in travelers although Pepto-Bismol may cause black stools and, rarely, ringing in the ears. People allergic to aspirin should avoid Pepto-Bismol. Studies have not shown bismuth subsalicylate to be safe for use longer than three weeks.

Probiotics such as Lactobacillus have shown inconclusive results in prevention of travelers' diarrhea.

Medically reviewed by Robert Cox, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Infectious Disease

REFERENCES:

CDC.gov. Travelers' Diarrhea.

CDC.gov. Chapter 2 The Pre-Travel Consultation - Self Treatable Conditions. Travelers' Diarrhea.

MedicineNet.com. Enterovirulent E. coli (EEC)

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/16/2016
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