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Travelers diarrhea is a less-glamorous part of a vacation or travel-heavy profession. Food and water quality are less than ideal in some countries, and the bacteria found in them can wreak havoc. Travelers diarrhea is the most common illness afflicting tourists. It causes frequent watery stools and moderate to severe stomach cramps. Though not serious, the condition is a less than pleasant token of recent adventures.

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Symptoms

Travelers diarrhea usually comes on suddenly, within days of returning from a trip. Diarrhea occurs a few times a day and the urge to "go" is persistent, though sometimes nothing comes of it. In between trips to the bathroom, most people experience stomach cramps. The condition can also cause nausea, vomiting, and even fever. Travelers diarrhea usually lasts a couple of days. If your illness lasts longer or symptoms worsen, a doctor's appointment is necessary.

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Causes

Most often, the cause of travelers diarrhea is eating or drinking a contaminated substance. The most common contaminant is feces, human or animal. The immune systems of people who live fulltime in the locale become used to these bacterial organisms, which explains why they don't get sick. An immune system unaccustomed to that specific bacteria, however, will reject it and the body will become sick. Some people believe travelers diarrhea can also stem from the stress of traveling or changes in diet.

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Should I See a Doctor?

There is no arguing that travelers diarrhea is super uncomfortable, but for the most part, it is a minor issue that goes away on its own. In rare cases, the symptoms may not go away and may even get worse. Any increase in diarrhea or the development of vomiting, rectal bleeding, or high fever calls for evaluation by a physician. Lasting or worsening symptoms could be a sign the condition is caused by something more serious, like E Coli.

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Treatments

Travelers diarrhea should be treated the same as any other bout of diarrhea. Over-the-counter medications can reduce episodes of cramps and diarrhea. Until the symptoms pass, refrain from eating anything that could further disrupt the digestive system, such as high-fat or spicy foods. Stick to simple, blander foods, if you feel like eating at all. Drink plenty of clear liquids.

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Prevention

Fortunately, the proper knowledge can prevent travelers diarrhea. When traveling to other countries, take caution with anything you drink or eat. Raw foods, specifically fruits and vegetables,have a high potential for causing problems. Make sure any food you eat is cooked thoroughly, and drink only sealed bottled water and other sealed drinks. Keep your mouth closed during showers and baths, and never swim in questionable bodies of water. Always make sure to wash your hands many times a day with antibacterial soaps.

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Risk Factors

Some risk factors can make people more susceptible to sickness while traveling. People with weakened immune systems are at especially high risk and should take extra caution. Other medical conditions, such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and cirrhosis of the liver, increase the chances of contracting travelers diarrhea.

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High-Risk Parts of the World

Travelers diarrhea can happen anywhere in the world, but certain locations are a higher risk for North Americans (whose bodies are accustomed to different bacteria). Traveling to the following countries poses the most risk: Asia (excepting Japan), the Middle East, Mexico, South & Central America, and parts of Africa. Anyone traveling to these areas should take special precautions when it comes to food and drink. 

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Water purification

Having clean water to drink is a necessary part of daily life. Because you cannot rely on other destinations to have the same clean water as the United States, preparation is important. Travel-friendly water purification options are available, such as purification pens that use ultraviolet rays to purify water. These items are portable and effective for fresh and faucet water. Water bottles with built-in filters are also available, and tablets that are placed directly in the water.

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Fluid Replacement

It is essential to replace lost fluids whenever you have diarrhea. The infection can cause you to become dehydrated, and this will only worsen and prolong the symptoms. You may not feel like eating or drinking, but do not stop clear liquids. Stay away from milk-based drinks that will only further disrupt the digestive tract. Water, sports drinks, clear broths, and other clear liquids replace lost fluids. Continuous dehydration can lead to the need for IV fluids, so make sure to force fluid intake during any course of diarrhea.

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Other Tips

If you are truly concerned with becoming sick while traveling, ask your physician about antibiotics before traveling. Prescribing preventative medication is not a common practice, but it will reduce the likelihood of contracting an infection. Some over-the-counter options can also serve as a preventative measure, to lessen the symptoms should you get sick. Always make sure utensils, and cups are washed properly while traveling. Keep a close eye on small children to make sure they aren't putting contaminated items in their mouths. Of course, hand washing is an essential practice that bears repeating; hand sanitizer gel is a good addition to your backpack.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.