Diarrhoea is the most common health problem that effects travellers. Almost everybody has experienced this at some point on their journeys, and know how restrictive and uncomfortable it can be. Normally, this is caused by consuming food or drink that does not suit your body. Any food or water from an infected source can cause traveller's diarrhoea. The onset of this normally occurs three days into your holiday, and can continue for up to 10 days after return. Normally, the illness will die down after rest and rehydration, within 48 hours.
How to Avoid Traveller's Diarrhoea
- Stick to bottled water!
- Remember that ice cubes will be made using the local water, so avoid these from your drinks. You could always make some yourself using bottled water if you have apartment accommodation.
- Always remember to brush your teeth using bottled water. Although you don’t intend to drink any of the water you out in your mouth, you may swallow some by accident. It only takes a small amount to upset your stomach.
- Check the seal is in place when buying bottled water abroad and ask to open the water yourself. If you think the bottle may have been opened, don’t take the risk and go for carbonated water instead, again asking to open the bottle yourself.
- Be careful not to accidentally consume water when you are in the shower or washing your face.
- Avoid roadside food vendors selling ice cream and unwashed fruit.
- If you are eating from a buffet, be wary of food kept warm under food lamps, as these can be a source of infection.
- Eat from a buffet service early, as soon as the food is bought out, to make sure it is a fresh as possible.
- Avoid unpasturised milk, shellfish, soft cheeses, lukewarm food and empty restaurants!
- Remember; food should either be piping hot, or freezing cold.
- If you are self catering, always boil water before using it in cooking.
- Keep your personal hygiene standards high. Always wash your hands before eating, and after using the toilet. Keep a hand sanitiser with you for extra convenience.
- If you get diarrhoea, drink plenty of clear, clean fluids. You may want to take some medication with you in case this happens.
- Avoid seafood and abide by the "cook it, boil it or peel it" rule when eating in local restaurants.
- Avoid salads at restaurants, particularly in areas of high risk of infection and poor sanitation.
- When swimming avoid swallowing water in swimming pools, lakes or the sea.
Self Treatment of Traveller's Diarrhoea
The best thing to do if you have diarrhoea abroad is to try to eat to give your body some strength back. Bananas are high in protein and will help to harden stools, and other foods such as salted crisps, rice or clear soups are all good sources of food at a time like this. Rest is essential, and you should avoid being exposed to the sun as much as possible as this will leave you feeling further dehydrated. Since you are loosing lots of fluids from the body, you must drink plenty of water to help restore some of the lost fluids so you do not become dehydrated. Dehydration can be very serious and you could be hospitalised.
Taking an over-the-counter anti-diarrhoeal medication such as Loperamide will stop the diarrhoea. While it is important not to take more than the recommended dose, some people can feel constipated after taking this medication, so only use medication if it is absolutely essential, otherwise it may be best to let nature run it’s course.
You can also purchase products such as Dioralyte, which contain rehydration salts consisting of sugars and salts (glucose, sodium chloride, potassium chloride and disodium hydrogen citrate) to replace body fluids lost as a result of acute diarrhoea. Antibiotics, as advised by your doctor, should be taken if the condition does not improve or worsens.
If after 24-48 hours the diarrhoea does not improve or worsens it is good to seek medical attention, as the diarrhoea could indicate other conditions.