Travellers’ Diarrhoea – one way to ruin a holiday
With international borders reopening many people are considering, or even booking, an overseas holiday. Travellers’ Diarrhoea is one of the most common illnesses experienced by people who travel overseas. It’s a generic term that covers anything from a mild stomach upset and loose poo, to severe vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s mostly a self-limiting illness that clears up in a few days. The good news is you can take steps to prevent it, and manage symptoms should they occur.
While tropical and sub-tropical countries, and developing countries, are common places to catch Travellers’ Diarrhoea, you can get it in other more developed countries. When you travel it’s important to be vigilant about hygiene. Carry an alcohol based handwash in our bag and use it before eating and drinking.
Diarrhoea that can be managed and doesn’t interfere with planned activities
You feel it’s safe to leave your accommodation
Diarrhoea that interferes with planned activities and can be considered distressing
You want to stay close to a toilet
Your diarrhoea is so bad it’s incapacitating
You feel quite unwell and may feel weak and/or tired
Diarrhoea lasting 2 weeks or more – may be mild, moderate, or severe
Sadly for some people, symptoms persist beyond the holiday and people may present to their GP or a gastroenterologist, weeks, or even months, after the initial infection. Research has indicated that Travellers’ Diarrhoea can have a causative role in the development of post infectious irritable bowel syndrome.
A major cause of Travellers’ Diarrhoea is consuming contaminated food and drink. Risk is particularly high where sanitation is poor.
As well as avoiding food and water where there is a high risk of contamination, you can take steps to prevent Travellers’ Diarrhoea.
Intestinal health and the immune system are intrinsically linked – you have more immune cells in your gut that anywhere else in your body. Support the health of your gut by eating a predominantly plant-based diet – choose from a wide selection of colourful vegetables and fruits, perhaps some chickpeas or lentils, and other plant-based wholefoods every day. Avoid foods that you know cause irritation or other gut problems.
A key to preventing Travellers’ Diarrhoea is to maintain the gut barrier. Certain herbs, fermented foods, and probiotics can support the gut barrier and reduce the risk of an infection taking hold; or even reduce the severity of an infection.
Seek advice from an accredited and registered Naturopath – they will guide you through the changes needed to improve your diet, microbiome and, therefore, improve your resistance to microbial strains associated with Travellers’ Diarrhoea. Their professional advice is invaluable. I suggest you seek advice a minimum of 2 weeks before you leave for your holiday.
Managing Travellers’ Diarrhoea
Mild to moderate Travellers’ Diarrhoea can usually be managed with rehydration drinks and, if needed, over the counter antidiarrheal drugs. If symptoms persist beyond a few days, or become severe, seek medical advice (it’s one of the reasons you buy travel insurance for). A severe bout of Travellers’ Diarrhoea may indicate the presence of microbes that need to be treated with antibiotics or other pharmaceutical drugs.
Your naturopath or herbalist will be able to help you with herbs and supplements you can take with you to minimize the risk of an infection taking hold and ruining your holiday.
When Symptoms Persist
Sometimes symptoms persist after you have returned from holiday. Seek medical advice. Your GP may order a faecal PCR test to check whether there are persistent pathogens that are causing ongoing symptoms.
Your herbalist and naturopath will be able to help you with ongoing symptoms as well. They can help with the side effects of antibiotics prescribed to deal with pathogens, and help repair gut cells damaged by infectious pathogens.
My Own Experience
I had Travellers’ Diarrhoea on a trip to one of the pacific islands. It was so bad we had to call a doctor out to the hotel. The next day I was on the road to recover, and had a doctor’s bill for $2000 to pay (remember, travel insurance is really useful when you need it). Since then I take a great deal of care around what I choose to eat. I do eat at food markets (look for where the locals eat), and restaurants that are off the beaten track. The basic rule is – if it looks/smells dodgy, don’t eat there. Don’t let fear of Travellers’ Diarrhoea prevent you for trying local cuisine. One of the joys of travel is trying different food.
The other thing to consider is that you can get Travellers’ Diarrhoea eating at a 5 star hotel – it’s about the personal hygiene of the kitchen staff.
I always travel with herbs and supplements for Travellers’ Diarrhoea – if I think I’ve eaten something dodgy, I take the herbs straight away. Your naturopath and herbalist can advise you about this.
Prevention is the key when it comes to Travellers’ Diarrhoea. Look after your gut and your gut will look after you. To learn more about gut health, see my Blog on Gut Health.