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Traveler's Diarrhea

Facts on Traveler's Diarrhea

Diarrhea occurs in a significant number of people who travel to foreign countries. Travelers to developing countries of the world become ill from eating or drinking food or water contaminated by infected human bowel waste.

Traveler's diarrhea can be defined as three or more unformed stools in a 24-hour period.

Who is at risk for traveler's diarrhea?

  • People traveling from industrialized countries to developing countries.
  • Traveler's diarrhea is more common in young adults.
  • A large percentage of travelers to the high-risk areas will develop diarrhea.

High-risk areas

  • Mexico
  • Latin America
  • Africa
  • Middle East
  • Asia

Moderate-risk areas

  • Caribbean islands
  • Southern Europe
  • Israel

Low-risk areas

  • United States
  • Canada
  • Northern Europe
  • New Zealand
  • Australia

Traveler's Diarrhea Causes

A person can become infected by eating or drinking food or water that has come in contact with feces. Food and water become contaminated when they are handled by people with fecal content on their hands - not in direct contact with feces. Restaurants are common sites for exposure to this type of food poisoning. Food from street vendors is even more risky. Eating in a private home is the safest food source.

High-risk food and drink

Certain items are considered high risk for transmission and include the following:

  • Raw or undercooked meats
  • Raw leafy vegetables
  • Seafood
  • Unpeeled fruits
  • Unpasteurized dairy products
  • Tap water (A common mistake travelers make is to avoid tap water but to place ice cubes in a beverage. Contaminated ice is still able to transmit disease. Do not use ice cubes.)

Safe products to eat and drink

  • Bottled carbonated beverages
  • Hot coffee or tea
  • Water boiled or treated appropriately with chlorine

Specific bacterial causes of traveler's diarrhea

A majority of traveler's diarrhea is caused by bacteria. The remaining cases are caused by viruses and protozoa. The most common organism causing traveler's diarrhea is Escherichia coli accounting for most of cases in some regions.

Other bacterial causes of traveler's diarrhea

  • Subtypes of E coli
  • Shigella s species
  • Salmonella species
  • Campylobacter juni
  • Vibrio species

Protozoa causing traveler's diarrhea

  • Giardia duodenalis, known as giardiasis
  • Entamoeba histolytica
  • Cryptosporidium parvum

Viral causes of traveler's diarrhea

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/4/2016
Medical Author:

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