Travelling is good for your mind and soul, but it can harm your body and cause you discomfort when a traveller's diarrhoea strikes.

In this post, we will look into the causes of traveller’s diarrhoea and, more importantly, how to prevent it so you can enjoy your vacations to the fullest.

What is traveller’s diarrhoea?

Traveller’s diarrhoea (also known as “Delhi belly”) is a digestive tract disorder which develops within 10 days of overseas travel. The most common symptoms are loose, watery stool and abdominal cramps. Other symptoms of traveller’s diarrhoea include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • gloating
  • excessive gas
  • loss of appetite

The symptoms above are common and should not make you panic, but the symptoms below are serious and require an immediate consultation with a physician:

  • severe and unbearable pain in the abdomen
  • frequent vomiting for over four hours
  • fever higher than 39°C
  • bloody stools
  • dehydration
  • persistent diarrhoea (e.g., diarrhoea for more than three days)

Causes of traveller’s diarrhoea

These are the three causes of traveller’s diarrhoea:

  • Eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water: Consuming foods or drinks which contain bacteria such as Escherichia coli, campylobacter, salmonella, and shigella is one of the most common causes of traveller’s diarrhoea.

Viruses such as norovirus and rotavirus can also contaminate food and water. Parasites, including giardia, cryptosporidium, and Entamoeba histolytica, are a less common cause.

  • Not washing hands after using the bathroom. When you don’t wash your hands after using the bathroom, your risk of acquiring diarrhoea-causing bacteria increases. Your chances of getting traveller’s diarrhoea multiplies when you touch your food with bacteria-infested hands. Make sure you always wash your hands before you leave the bathroom and/or toilet!
  • Improper/unsafe food handling: When your food has been exposed to bacteria, viruses, and parasites, your risk of contracting traveller’s diarrhoea increases. For example, leaving your leftovers uncovered or stored in unsanitary places such as an unkempt hotel room can make it easier for you to contract traveller’s diarrhoea.

Tips on how to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea

Follow these seven tips to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea from ruining your vacation:

  1. Exercise caution in the foods and drinks you ingest. Travelling overseas is like exploring uncharted territory: you never know which food or drink may give you an upset stomach and trigger traveller’s diarrhoea. On that note, it will be better for you to avoid consuming the following foods and liquids:
  • Tap water
  • Ice cream
  • Ice cubes
  • Shellfish and uncooked seafood
  • Eggs
  • Salads
  • Raw or uncooked meat and eggs
  • Peeled fruits
  • Unpasteurised milk

2. Steer clear of street food. The tendency of most travellers when they’re in a different country is to try native delicacies, particularly street food. Unfortunately, some street foods are prepared in unsanitary conditions. Even worse, some street food vendors leave these foods exposed to potential bacteria carriers such as flies. If you really want to try local foods, try sampling them in restaurants instead.

3. Use straws when drinking. Drinking straight from a bottle, cup, or glass increases your chances of making direct contact with diarrhoea-causing bacteria tenfold. You can prevent this by using a straw (preferably your own straw) whenever you drink any beverage overseas. If you don’t have any straw of your own, pick establishments that offer straws in sealed plastic bags or containers instead.

4. Wash your hands frequently. Make sure you wash your hands regularly to minimise the chances of bacteria contaminating your food. Wash your hands after using the bathroom as this place is a breeding ground for bacteria. It’s also imperative you sanitise your hands after handling money because other people handled them before you did. Always bring a hand sanitiser and wet wipes with you so you can still disinfect your hands even in places where there are no sinks or clean water and soap.

5. Take necessary precautions when swimming: Swimming in contaminated water can cause traveller’s diarrhoea. Make sure you check the conditions of the ocean or pool before taking a plunge. Above all, avoid swallowing sea or pool water as they may contain harmful contaminants.

6. Use bottled water when brushing your teeth: It’s better to use bottled water instead of tap water when brushing your teeth because bacteria from the latter may still linger in your mouth. Even if you don’t swallow the tap water when you are brushing your teeth, any bacteria it may have can go from your mouth to your stomach and cause traveller’s diarrhoea.

7. Visit your doctor before departing. Talk to your physician before you embark on your journey. Discuss the kind of environment and conditions you will expose yourself to during your visit. Your doctor can assess your risk level and advise you on the medicines and probiotics you should bring with you as a precaution.

Kick Traveller’s Diarrhoea to the Curb Once and For All

There’s nothing like an overseas holiday to make your stress levels dissipate. However, unforeseen circumstances such as traveller’s diarrhoea can get in the way of your vacation and ruin the fun activities you had planned.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you take the necessary precautions such as sanitary nutrition habits and regular washing of hands, and follow the rest of the tips we shared above, you can prevent an episode of traveller’s diarrhoea from spoiling your fun holidays abroad.

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