Traveler's diarrhea is loose, watery stools. People can get traveler's diarrhea when they visit places where the water is not clean or the food is not handled safely. This can include third-world or developing countries in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
This article discusses what you should eat or drink if you have traveler's diarrhea.
Bacteria and other substances in the water and food can cause traveler's diarrhea. People living in these areas often don't get sick because their bodies are used to the bacteria.
You can lower your risk for getting traveler's diarrhea by avoiding water, ice, and food that may be contaminated. The goal of the traveler's diarrhea diet is to make your symptoms better and prevent you from getting dehydrated.
Traveler's diarrhea is rarely dangerous in adults. It can be more serious in children.
How to prevent traveler's diarrhea:
Do not use tap water to drink or brush your teeth.
Do not use ice made from tap water.
Use only boiled water (boiled for at least 5 minutes) for mixing baby formula.
For infants, breastfeeding is the best and safest food source. However, the stress of traveling may reduce the amount of milk you make.
Drink only pasteurized milk.
Drink bottled drinks if the seal on the bottle hasn't been broken.
Sodas and hot drinks are usually safe.
Do not eat raw fruits and vegetables unless you peel them. Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them.
Do not eat raw leafy vegetables (e.g. lettuce, spinach, cabbage) because they are hard to clean.
Do not eat raw or rare meats.
Do not buy food from street vendors.
Eat hot, well-cooked foods. Heat kills the bacteria. But do not eat hot foods that have been sitting around for a long time.
Wash hands often.
Watch children carefully so they do not put things in their mouths or touch dirty items and then put their hands in their mouths.
If possible, keep infants from crawling on dirty floors.
Check to see that utensils and dishes are clean.
There is no vaccine against traveler's diarrhea.
Your doctor may recommend medicines to help lower your chances of getting sick.
Taking two tablets of Pepto-Bismol four times a day before you travel and while you are traveling can help prevent diarrhea. Do not take Pepto-Bismol for more than 3 weeks.
Most people do not need to take antibiotics every day to prevent diarrhea while traveling.
People who are at risk for more dangerous infections (because chronic bowel diseases, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, or HIV) should talk to their doctor before traveling.
A prescription medicine called rifaximin can also help prevent traveler's diarrhea. Ask your doctor if this medicine is right for you.
If you have diarrhea, follow these tips to help you feel better:
Drink 8 to 10 glasses of clear fluids every day. Water or an oral rehydration solution is best.
Drink at least 1 cup of liquid every time you have a loose bowel movement.
Eat small meals every few hours instead of three big meals.
Eat some salty foods, such as pretzels, soup, and sports drinks.
Eat foods that are high in potassium, such as bananas, potatoes without the skin, and fruit juices.
Dehydration means your body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. It is a very big problem for children or people who are in a hot climate. Signs of severe dehydration include:
Decreased urine (fewer wet diapers in infants)
Few tears when crying
Give your child fluids for the first 4 - 6 hours. At first, try 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of fluid every 30 to 60 minutes.
You can use an over-the-counter drink, such as Pedialyte or Infalyte. Do not add water to these drinks.
You can also try Pedialyte popsicles.
Fruit juice or broth with water added to it may also help. These drinks can give your child important minerals that are being lost in the diarrhea.
If you are breastfeeding your infant, keep doing it. If you are using formula, use it at half-strength for two to three feedings after the diarrhea starts. Then you can begin regular formula feedings.
In third-world countries, many health agencies stock packets of salts to mix with water. If these fluids are not available, you can make an emergency solution by mixing:
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons sugar or rice powder
1/4 teaspoon potassium chloride (salt substitute)
1/2 teaspoon trisodium citrate (can be replaced with baking soda)
1 liter of clean water
If you or your child has symptoms of severe dehydration, or if you have a fever or bloody stools, get medical attention right away.
Arguin P. Approach to the patient before and after travel. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 308.
Arguin P. Approach to the patient before and after travel .In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 294.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.