When travelling,

you’re more likely to get
travellers’ diarrhea than
any other illness.

Besides frequent bouts of diarrhea, travellers’ diarrhea may also cause fever, cramps, nausea, vomiting, bloating and a general feeling of uneasiness.

  • What
  • Where
  • Who

What is travellers’ diarrhea?

Travellers’ diarrhea usually develops after you consume food or drink contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites. The onset of travellers’ diarrhea is generally very sudden, characterized by the fairly abrupt onset of loose, semi-formed or watery stools associated with abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea and fever. Travellers’ diarrhea is the most widespread medical condition affecting people travelling to developing countries.

The severity of each travellers’ diarrhea occurrence varies with the type of bacteria, parasite or virus that caused the travellers’ diarrhea. In most cases, travellers’ diarrhea is not severe and clears up within a few days, but it can incapacitate a traveller, causing missed vacations days spent in bed or in the washroom, and can be difficult to deal with in a remote and unfamiliar environment.

What causes it?

The primary source of travellers’ diarrhea is the ingestion of fecally contaminated food or water. While there are multiple agents responsible for travellers’ diarrhea, the most common are bacteria, which are responsible for roughly 80% of travellers’ diarrhea.

What foods are responsible for it?

It is difficult to find a single culprit that is responsible for travellers’ diarrhea. The causes of food-borne illness are numerous. Potential sources can include inadequately cooked meat, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables, and unpasteurized dairy products.

What are the symptoms?

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • abdominal cramping
  • a general feeling of uneasiness

What to do about diarrhea?

In most cases, travellers’ diarrhea goes away on its own within a few days, but it is important to remain hydrated. For the majority of adults with mild cases, liquids such as purified water, sports drinks, diluted juices and broth will be sufficient to avoid dehydration. The use of anti-motility medication (drugs used to ease the symptoms of diarrhea or abdominal pain, e.g. diarrhea treatments) may provide relief from the symptoms.

In moderate to severe cases, travellers’ diarrhea may lead to dehydration. In the case of dehydration, you should rest and drink plenty of clean water (up to 2 L a day), including oral rehydration solutions containing salts (electrolytes, electrolyte powder) and glucose. These solutions help restore the body’s water and minerals. Children, the elderly and any person suffering from a chronic disease or weakened immune system are particularly at risk of dehydration.

No matter what the other symptoms are, any presence of blood in stool requires medical attention.

Consult a physician if

symptoms of travellers’ diarrhea persist or if you have any one of the following symptoms:

  • diarrhea for more than 48 hours
    (adults and children over 6 years of age)
  • dehydration
  • a persistent high temperature (over 39 °C)
  • blood or mucus in stool
  • severe abdominal or rectal pain

Where is travellers’ diarrhea a concern?

The risk of travellers’ diarrhea is present worldwide, but risk levels vary depending on where you travel.

  • Low-risk areas include destinations such as Northern and Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the United States and Canada.
  • Moderate-risk areas include destinations such as Eastern Europe, South Africa and some parts of the Caribbean.
  • High risk areas include destinations such as Central and South America, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

See travellers’ diarrhea risks around the world.

In addition, your risk is increased if you travel to areas with low hygiene and sanitation standards and poor food handling practices. This being said, E. coli can be found in a street side stall or in the best of restaurants. As a traveller, you are exposed to new things… so play it safe and consult our Travel tools section.

Who gets travellers’ diarrhea?

Every year, approximately 10 million people, up to half of all international travellers, develop travellers’ diarrhea. In general, travellers’ diarrhea affects people travelling from a more developed country to a less developed one.

Who is more at risk?

Although all travellers are at risk of contracting travellers’ diarrhea, some people are at increased risk of serious complications related to travellers’ diarrhea: specifically, children, the elderly and any person suffering from a chronic disease or weakened immune system, as well as individuals with chronic renal failure, congestive heart failure, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or inflammatory bowel disease.

Be sure to consult a doctor before using Travelan if you have any of the conditions mentioned above. Travelan is not suitable for use in children under 6 years of age except on professional health advice.

No matter what the other symptoms, any presence of blood in stool requires medical attention.