Ashley Clay, MSPAS, PA-C
Part of the fun and excitement of traveling to foreign destinations is getting to eat the local cuisine, which can be much different than your normal diet. Be aware, though, that some food and drinks on your international travels may be contaminated and therefore could cause a variety of illnesses, including traveler’s diarrhea. Knowing how to recognize foods that are safe to eat and ones that should be avoided is an important way to stay healthy throughout your trip, so you can enjoy every moment.
A good practice when you are abroad is to inquire with your hotel or cruise concierge about reputable dining locations. Below are some general guidelines for food and drink consumption, especially if you are traveling in areas with poor sanitation.
You can also use the CDC’s mobile app Can I Eat This? to determine whether something you want to eat is probably safe. The app is free and does not require a data connection to use.
What is Traveler’s Diarrhea?
Colloquially called Montezuma’s revenge and Delhi belly, traveler’s diarrhea is an infection in the intestines caused by eating or drinking foods or beverages that are contaminated with bacteria (most commonly E.coli), viruses, or parasites. Diarrhea is the most common illness related to travel. Geographical areas that pose the greatest risk are Asia (except Japan and South Korea), the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Although traveler’s diarrhea is rarely life threatening, it can derail the best of travel plans because it typically lasts between 3 and 7 days.
- Sudden onset of diarrhea
- Painful gas
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling bloated, weak, with a loss of appetite
Seek medical attention if your diarrhea doesn’t go away in a few days, or if it is severe or bloody, if you have a fever and chills, or if you can’t keep fluids down as there can be a risk of dehydration.
How Do You Treat Traveler’s Diarrhea?
Always try to discuss treatment of traveler’s diarrhea with a doctor, but self-treatment recommendations include fluid and salt replacement and consuming bland foods. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated; fluid replacement is the most important treatment. If you are suffering from a serious case of traveler’s diarrhea, consider purchasing the World Health Organization oral rehydration salts solution, found online or in stores and pharmacies in most all developing countries. You may want to consider packing oral rehydration salts in your luggage in case they are needed. Additionally, over-the-counter medications that can relieve the symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea include:
- Imodium (antidiarrheal medications that decrease the frequency, urgency of bathroom visits)
- Pepto-Bismol (decreases diarrhea and shortens duration)
Before you travel to a foreign country, speak with your healthcare provider. Depending on your destination, they may prescribe antibiotics for you to take with you on your trip that can be used if start to have symptoms that would benefit from antibiotics.
Bradley A. Connor, “Travelers’ Diarrhea,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/preparing-international-travelers/travelers-diarrhea
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Travelers’ Diarrhea,” https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/travelers-diarrhea
Patricia M. Griffin and Vincent Hill, “Food & Water Precautions,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/preparing-international-travelers/food-and-water-precautions
WebMD, “Traveler’s Diarrhea,” https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/travelers-diarrhea#1