Travelers’ Diarrhea

When you are scheduling your vacations be more aware of the potential illness that can follow you after you return. The most common causes of traveler’s diarrhea are bacterial infections, like E.coli, salmonella, shigella and campylobacter.

Travelers’ DiarrheaTravelers' Diarrhea

Travelers’ diarrhea is defined by most experts as three or more unformed stools in a 24 hour time period, passed by a person who is traveling. Travelers’ diarrhea is commonly accompanied by abdominal cramps, nausea, and bloating. Travelers’ diarrhea is a general term and does not specify any cause. Travelers’ from temperate regions of the world frequently experience diarrhea four days to two weeks after arriving in certain other areas of the world.

Travelers’ diarrhea usually is contracted by the ingestion of contaminated food or water. Contrary to common belief, food – not water – is the primary cause. The CDC estimates up to 80% of cases of travelers’ diarrhea are caused by bacteria. The most common bacterium that causes travelers’ diarrhea is enterotoxigenic E. coli, one of six classes of enterovirulent E. coli.


The symptoms of travelers’ diarrhea vary from person to person. Generally, diarrhea occurs within the first week of travel and lasts up to three to four days. Affected individuals on average pass up to five loose or watery bowel movements per day which may be associated with cramps. On occasion, individuals may experience fever or bloody stools. The diarrhea may be accompanied by abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, or increase in stomach or intestinal noises or gurgling. Therefore, if you feel any of these symptoms on the plane ride home you probably caught up one of these bacterial infections.

Parasites are also common cause of traveler’s diarrhea but much less common than others in travelers. The most common are giardiasis and amebiasis.  It is not necessary to travel to acquire these types of bacteria because they are available anywhere even at your home! However, keeping this in mind when traveling can help you ensure a healthy trip!

A clinical examination of any of these is required by a health professional to determine what the real infection is. Treatment is based on the causative agent and the clinical state of the patient. The most common infection that has been encountered so far is the Post Infectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome in which one might suffer from gas, bloating, rumbling and abdominal discomfort. Travelers’ diarrhea usually improve with time.

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