Updated: Nov 15, 2019
One thing people love about travelling is that it often results in experiences we never would have expected. When we get outside of what we're comfortable with, it can be invigorating, even life-changing!
But sometimes... the unexpected things we face while travelling are not so enjoyable. One of the most common disruptions when adventuring is the infamous traveller’s diarrhoea. Although not usually a serious illness, it can be incredibly uncomfortable and inconvenient.
A little background...
Traveller's diarrhoea is a digestive tract disorder defined as three or more unformed stools in a 24-hour period, often accompanied by at least one of the following: fever, nausea, vomiting, cramps, or bloody stools (dysentery). It occurs in settings where the climate and food is different than what you're used to. It specifically affects travellers because of this, as local populations generally build up a resistance. As a visitor, your body is not used to the viruses, bacteria, or protozoa you're consuming or being exposed to.
Some strategies for avoiding it...
The main thing to do to avoid traveller's diarrhoea is to be careful what you eat and drink.
Make sure the water you're drinking is effectively treated. This either means drinking bottled water or boiling your own water for at least three minutes at a rolling boil. Also, ensure that you avoid ice cubes in drinks (especially at restaurants), use bottled water even to brush your teeth, and keep your mouth closed while showering.
When it comes to food, it's a good idea to avoid unpasteurized milk products, food from street vendors, and raw or undercooked meat or seafood. Try to only eat food that has been fully cooked and is still hot when you eat it. When you eat fruits and vegetables, try to only consume those that have peels and that you have peeled yourself (this means avoiding salads). If you can’t peel it, then don’t eat it!
When your prevention efforts are unsuccessful...
Like we mentioned at the start, though, one of the joys of travelling is trying new things. And one of the hallmarks of a good guest is one that doesn't turn their nose up at the food that is offered to them. And, even if you are incredibly vigilant, there is no guarantee that you'll be able to avoid contracting traveller's diarrhoea. So let's make sure you have a plan, just in case you do get it.
First of all, most people recover from this illness without any treatment. However, it's important to monitor your health and ensure you see a doctor if the symptoms persist, if you become really dehydrated, or if pain becomes severe.
There are few things you can do to manage the symptoms and treat the illness. The primary goal is to stay hydrated, so drinking plenty of water with oral rehydration salts (ORS) is the most effective way of doing this. Ensure ORS sachets are included in your first aid kit or look for them at a local chemist in either powder or tablet form (to be mixed with treated water) or in liquid form. It's also important to rest, so this may mean changing around your schedule and choosing more leisurely and relaxing activities.
If it is absolutely necessary to control the symptoms (for example, if you're going on a long journey where restrooms may be difficult to find), you can take anti-motility agents, such as loperamide. However, the symptoms of traveller's diarrhoea are your body’s way of getting rid of toxins, so the best thing to do is to let nature take its course. Anti-motility agents should also never be taken by anyone with a fever or bloody diarrhoea.
Don't let traveller's diarrhoea get you down! Focus on prevention, but make sure to be prepared if things don't go according to plan.