Traveller’s diarrhoea is a common health issue that affects people while traveling abroad. It can affect 20-50% of people travelling from industrialised countries to developing nations, such as in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia (1, 2). It typically arises from ingesting contaminated food or water (1). Here’s what you need to know about traveller’s diarrhoea and how you can stay clear of it.
Causes of traveller’s diarrhoea
Food or water may be contaminated with various microorganisms that locals have immunity against. A traveller visiting from another country may not have the same immunity as locals. These contaminants include bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; parasites, including Entamoeba histolytica or Cryptosporidium; viruses like norovirus and rotavirus (1).
These may be ingested by eating fruits or vegetables, undercooked meats, food from street vendors, or food buffets (1).
People who are more likely to contract traveller's diarrhoea include young adults, those with underlying sickness or are taking immune-suppressing medicines, those with diabetes, or severe medical conditions (3). Those who take acid blockers or antacids are also at higher risk of traveller's diarrhoea because the reduction in stomach acids caused by these medications may make it easier for bad bacteria to proliferate (3).
How do you know if you have traveller's diarrhoea?
People with mild cases may experience passing three or more loose stools over a day, accompanied by abdominal cramps, rectal spasms, a strong or immediate urge to go to the bathroom, and nausea (2). You may also experience a mild fever and general weakness (1).
Traveller's diarrhoea usually resolves within seven days. However 20% of those who catch it become confined to their beds, and another 8-15% continue having symptoms even after a week (2).
What to do if you have traveller’s diarrhoea
Give yourself time to be comfortable and rest while you recover (4). Hydration is important to make up for the fluids lost during bouts of diarrhoea. Antibiotics may also be helpful if traveller's diarrhoea is caused by bacteria (2). While in recovery, it is advisable to avoid dairy products, alcohol, and spicy foods (3) as these foods can aggravate a sensitive digestive system.
How to avoid traveller’s diarrhoea
Avoid ingesting contaminated food or water
This includes ensuring that you only eat or drink from safe sources.
Drinking bottled water or boiled water may help reduce the likelihood of traveller's diarrhoea (1). Thoroughly cooked food is less likely to be contaminated. However food that is cooked and then left at room temperature may still cause sickness (4).
Keep up good hygiene practices
Even if you do not directly ingest contaminated food or water, be sure to remain vigilant. Make sure that utensils and dishes are clean before using them (3.) It also helps to wash your hands with soap and water before eating (2). Avoid water that is unsterilised. For instance, contaminated water may be used for ice cubes that can dissolve in otherwise safe water. Similarly, avoid swimming in water that you cannot make certain of its cleanliness (3).
Probiotics are good bacteria that help keep a healthy balance in your gut ecosystem. While they are present in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi, you may also want to consider taking them via supplementation (2). Probiotic strains like L. rhamnosus, B. Lactis, and Saccharomyces boulardii support digestive health. Saccharomyces boulardii in particular, has been found to reduce symptoms of traveller's diarrhoea (5).
Other nutrients that may help shore up your gut health ahead of travelling abroad include zinc and curcumin.
Zinc deficiency has been found to create favourable conditions for various gastrointestinal disorders (6). Zinc can be taken into the body by eating meat, beans, and lentils, but in case you aren't getting enough zinc from your diet, you may take it through supplementation (7).
Curcumin, which is found in the common household spice turmeric, supports the growth of good bacteria in your gut microbiota (8).
Vitable vitamins can help you to get the supplements that are right for your personal needs. Sign up for a supplement subscription and get your customised vitamins brought to your doorstep through our vitamin delivery services.
Find out more about other areas that the above supplements can help you with:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
- Better Health Channel. "Traveller's diarrhoea". Better Health Channel. Reviewed July 13 2013 on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/travellers-diarrhoea. Accessed November 22, 2021.
- GI Society. "Caring for Your Gut While Travelling Abroad". GI Society: Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. Published 2013 on https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/caring-for-your-gut-while-travelling-abroad/ . Accessed November 22, 2021.
- Mayo Clinic. “Traveler's diarrhea”. Mayo Clinic. Published August 7, 2021 on https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/travelers-diarrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20352182 . Accessed November 22, 2021.
- Better Health Channel. "Food safety while travelling". Better Health Channel. Reviewed May 12, 2018 on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Food-safety-while-travelling . Accessed November 22, 2021.
- Vitable. “Probiotics”. VItable. Published (n.d.) on https://research.vitable.com.au/probiotics . Accessed November 22, 2021.
- Skrovanek, S., et. al., "Zinc and gastrointestinal disease". World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology. Published November 15, 2014 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4231515/ . Accessed November 22, 2021.
- GI Society. "Are You Getting Enough Zinc?" Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: GI Society. Published 2011 on https://badgut.org/information-centre/health-nutrition/zinc/ . Accessed November 22, 2021.
- Di Meo, F., et. al., "Curcumin, Gut Microbiota, and Neuroprotection". Nutrients. Published October 11, 2019 onhttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835970/ . Accessed November 22, 2021.