Traveler’s Diarrhea

The dreaded lurgy, gastro, bali belly, dehli belly…traveler’s diarrhea is one of the most common ailments to strike a traveler. It is so common that many travellers consider that one has not truly experienced travel until they have spent a day or two hunched over a squat toilet somewhere in remote South East Asia. It certainly can change the dynamics of a travel partnership.

What causes Traveler’s Diarrhea? – There are two main causes of travelers diarrhoea (TD), viruses and bacterium. Viruses need a host (you) to live and reproduce in whereas Bacterium are single celled organisms that can live and reproduce on their own.

Rotavirus is the most common cause of viral gastro in kids as their immune systems have not yet developed a response to it. However, when you go abroad you may come in to contact with an unfamiliar virus that can cause symptoms.

Now the bacterium’s story. Our intestinal systems have a huge amount of bacteria living in perfect harmony with our body. They are so important to various bodily functions that many health professions refer to them as the forgotten organ. Our gut bacteria do such helpful things as the fermentation of energy providing substrates, training the immune system and production of vitamins K and Biotin. Having a healthy family of bacteria in your gut also helps to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. If you got it in your mind to dry out a poo around 60% of the weight would dead bacteria. Not that you really care about all this when hunched over holding your stomach with tears streaming down your cheek…

How is Traveler’s Diarrhea spread? Mainly by consuming contaminated food or drink, also by person-to-person contact or touching contaminated objects. It is not airborne so you cannot breathe in the bugs and get sick.

Can I avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea? – The only way to absolutely avoid travelers diarrhoea is to not travel. “Forget that!” I hear you scream. The second best bet is to develop what I call TIOCD or Travel Induced Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:

  1. Wash you hands a lot with soap and use alcohol gel religiously.
  2. NEVER get drinks with ice cubes. The bugs that can survive in ice are particularly nasty.
  3. Only drink bottled water and ensure that bottled water is not refilled by touts.
  4. If you can’t get bottled water bring water to a vigorous boil and let it boil for a few minutes.
  5. Peel your vegetables and only eat food that has been cooked at or above 70 degrees (and not left at room temperature afterwards)
  6. If you go to the salt hotel at the Salar De Uyuni don’t lick the salt brick walls (duh Ben!)
  7. Did I mention to wash your hands a lot?

There are some non-prescription products available which claim to reduce the incidence of Travellers diarrhoea, the most proven one is Travelan. Travelan is a natural product specifically designed to reduce the risk of infection by Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli or ETEC which is the most common bacterial cause of Travellers Diarrhoea. The active ingredient in Travelan is Bovine Colostrum, a rich source of antibodies that bind ETEC in the gastrointestinal tract. Basically you take Travalan before each meal and it stops (to some degree) the ETEC from attaching to the intestinal wall, thereby neutralising the bugs’ ability to make you sick.

Travelan has undergone independent trials in both the USA and Europe. The trials reported protection rates of up to 90% against infection with ETEC and there were no reported side effects in the clinical trials. Click here if you want more detailed (much more detailed) information.

What symptoms will I get? Viral and Bacterial gastroenteritis produce symptoms so similar that they cannot be distinguished on presentation alone, common symptoms include vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Both of these lead to dehydration which can give headache, lethargy and muscle ache. Symptoms take between 1-3 days to show and can last for up to a week, “Boo.”

How do I treat Traveler’s Diarrh


ea? At the first sign of a brewing issue I take a Cipro bomb. This is 1500mgs of Ciprofloxacin as a single dose. This antibiotic only works against bacterium and cannot kill viruses but I think it is a good precautionary measure for the places I normally get sick (high on mountains away from medical care).

You may think I have lost the plot when I say this, but diarrhoea and vomiting are your friend. They both expel nasties from your system and will speed up recovery time.

If you can handle it, for the first two days let it run, take rehydration salts, drink heaps of safe water and eat ‘boring’ foods, no dairy, spicy or rich food eat only plain stuff like plain boiled potatos and rice.

If the diarrhoea lasts for a few days consider taking an antidiarroheal like Imodium. This class of drug only work to slow the gut’s action and do nothing for treating the cause. Again if you don’t have major stomach cramping or blood in your stools the mainstay of treatment is rehydration. If you do have disabling cramps, blood in your stool, fever or diarrhoea for longer than three or four days I would strongly advise medical attention. Further information can be found on these websites:

Safer foods whilst traveling


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