Dr. Bharat Sangani, MD, is a Doctor of Cardiology Disease and Internal Medicine with practices along the Mississippi Gulf Coast who also writes a health column for The Sun Herald. He answered a few questions about travel safety in relation to food and drink, especially a condition known as “traveler’s diarrhea”:
In the past few months the cruise industry has suffered a lot due to frequent outbreaks. Ten to 50 percent of travelers may develop diarrhea. It is the most common illness of travelers. Men and women are at equal risk for developing travelers’ diarrhea. Younger people are at a higher risk. Travelers at risk for diarrhea come from industrialized nations and travel to high-risk areas that are within less industrialized nations of the world, such as Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Asia. Lesser risk areas include China and Caribbean nations.
What causes travelers’ diarrhea?
Travelers’ diarrhea is contracted by ingestion of contaminated food or water. The single most bacteria causing this problem is E. Coli, which is estimated to cause up to 70 percent of all cases. Travelers’ diarrhea does not vary from location to location and with the season of the year. Spices in food and changes in the climate do not cause this.
What are the symptoms of travelers’ diarrhea?
Most commonly diarrhea occurs 4 to 14 days after arrival but can occur within a shorter time if the bacteria ingested is high. The patient may pass on average up to 5 loose bowel movements per day and cramping may occur. Nausea, vomiting, fatigue may occur also.
What is the treatment for travelers’ diarrhea?
The goal is to prevent dehydration, so fluid replacement is essential. Antibiotics and anti-motility agents may be required. Most cases resolve on their own within 3 to 5 days of treatment with fluid replacement. Antibiotics will shorten the disease duration and anti-motility drugs may decrease the symptoms.
When should someone seek medical attention?
The person with fever, blood in stool, and vomiting should seek treatment. These patients may require fluid in the vein and medications in the vein to relieve the symptoms and treat the dehydration.
How is travelers’ diarrhea prevented?
Food is the major source of infection. Foods should be well-cooked and served warm. Avoid raw vegetables, uncooked meat or seafood. Avoid foods maintained at room temperature. Other high-risk foods include dairy products, tap water and ice. Safe foods include carbonated beverages, beer, wine, hot coffee, tea, fruits that can be peeled, and canned products.