Gastroenterology &
Hepatology Center

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What to do with traveler’s diarrhea?

What to do with traveler’s diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the most common illness during traveling. It turns a happy journey into a disappointment, looking for bathrooms, and eyeing all the delicious food that you cannot eat. If it is more serious, you might have to stay at your hotel room or consult a local doctor. These cost money as well as your precious holiday

The World Health Organization estimates that about 10 million travelers suffer from Traveler’s Diarrhea each year. The numbers are especially higher in Southeast Asian countries where Hong Kong people often go to, such as Thailand and Vietnam. Other high-risk areas include India, Middle East, Africa, Central America and South America. The reason is the relatively poor cleanness of water in these areas as well as suboptimal sanitation management in restaurants. Summertime is particularly worse.

According to statistics, about 90% of traveler’s diarrhea are caused by bacteria. The most common ones are Escherichia coli, Aspergillus jejuni, Salmonella and bacillary dysentery. So, what food is common culprit? Undercooked meat, eggs, seafood and improperly stored dairy products such as ice cream and unclean water are the major problems. It is not wise to drink unboil water! But have you ever wondered what kind of water restaurants use to make ice and clean vegetables for salad? Unless you eat cup noodles every day or visit five-star hotels for every meal, practically it’s difficult to avoid. Another point to note is to wash your hands before eating. If the places you visit are less developed, you can carry your own alcohol hand sanitizer to clean your hands.

If you unfortunately suffer from gastroenteritis while traveling, the symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. If it is caused by bacteria, the symptoms typically last for 3 to 5 days. The symptoms of gastroenteritis caused by viruses (such as Norwalk and Rotavirus) usually only last for 1 to 3 days. Gastroenteritis caused by Norwalk virus is characterized by more vomiting than diarrhea.

Most patients can be cured without medication. The most important thing is to avoid dehydration. Be sure to drink distilled water or thoroughly boiled water. Electrolytes also need to be replenished. You can drink sports drinks or buy oral rehydration remedies before setting out. Try not to eat dairy food or greasy food. If you really do not want to delay your travel itinerary due to gastroenteritis, you can discuss with your family doctor to get some medication before departure. Although medications can reduce the duration of diarrhea, they are not necessary for healthy readers. Antibiotics must be chosen based on personal medical records and travel locations.

If the symptoms persist for more than 5 days, the presence of dehydration (you can pay attention whether the amount of urine is lessened) or bloody stools, you should consult a local doctor for treatment. After returning to Hong Kong, if the diarrhea persists, doctor consultation is required as it may be a parasite infection. Therefore, choose your food carefully during travelling, especially travelling to hot areas in summer.