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22 / 02 / 2018
Travelers Diarrhea
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Traveler's diarrhea


Diseases & Conditions


Traveler's diarrhea may be caused by any of several bacteria, viruses, or parasites. However, enterotoxigenic E. coli is the most common cause. E. coli organisms are commonly present in the water supplies of areas that lack adequate water purification.

Infection is common in persons traveling to some areas of Mexico and Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Travelers often avoid drinking local water but become infected by brushing their teeth with an improperly rinsed toothbrush, drinking bottled drinks with ice made from local water, or eating food prepared with local water.

Being careful about what you eat and drink can reduce your risk.

Signs and symptoms

Traveler's diarrhea usually begins abruptly while traveling or shortly after you return home. Most cases go away in three to four days, without treatment. Ninety percent of cases clear up within a week. However, you can have multiple episodes of traveler's diarrhea in one trip.

The most common signs and symptoms of traveler's diarrhea are:

  • Increased frequency, volume and weight of stool

  • Frequent loose stools — usually about four to five loose or watery bowel movements each day

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fever

  • Bloating

A small number of cases involve moderate to severe dehydration, bloody stools, persistent vomiting or a high fever. If you or your child experiences any of these signs and symptoms or if the diarrhea lasts longer than a few days, it's time to see a doctor.


It's possible that traveler's diarrhea may stem from the stress of traveling, jet lag, fatigue, or change in diet or altitude. But existing evidence shows that the problem is almost always an infectious agent.

You typically develop traveler's diarrhea by ingesting food or water that's contaminated with organisms from feces. These organisms are infectious agents — including various bacteria, viruses and parasites — that enter your gastrointestinal tract and overpower your defense mechanisms, resulting in symptoms.

The most common cause of traveler's diarrhea is Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. These bacteria attach themselves to the lining of your intestine and release a toxin that causes diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

Risk factors

Your chances of contracting traveler's diarrhea are mostly determined by your destination. But certain groups of people have a greater risk of developing the condition. These include:

  • Children and young adults. Children under age 2 have a higher risk of contracting traveler's diarrhea, probably because of lack of immunity, as well as the tendency for them to put things in their mouths. The condition is also slightly more common in young adults ages 21 to 29. Though the reasons why aren't clear, it's possible that young adults lack acquired immunity, are more adventurous in their travels or are less vigilant in avoiding contaminated foods.

  • People with a weakened immune system. A weakened immune system increases vulnerability to infections.

  • People with diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease. Conditions such as these can leave you more prone to infection.

  • People who take acid blockers or antacids. Acid in the stomach tends to destroy organisms, so a reduction in acid may leave more opportunity for bacteria.

  • People who travel during certain seasons. Studies show that the risk of traveler's diarrhea is higher during the summer months and rainy seasons.

When to seek medical advice

Traveler's diarrhea usually goes away on its own in about three or four days. Symptoms may last longer and be more severe if the condition is caused by organisms other than common bacteria. In such cases you may need prescription medications to help you overcome the ailment.

If you have severe dehydration, persistent vomiting, bloody stools or a high fever, or if your symptoms last for more than a few days, seek medical help. The local U.S. embassy or consulate can help you find a competent, English-speaking medical professional.

Be especially cautious with children, since traveler's diarrhea can cause severe dehydration in a short time. Call a doctor if your child is sick and exhibits any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • Persistent vomiting

  • Bloody stools or severe diarrhea

  • A high fever

  • Dry mouth or crying without tears

  • Signs of being unusually sleepy, drowsy or unresponsive

  • Decreased urine, including fewer wet diapers in infants

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.

In no event will the be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance upon the information provided through this web site.
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