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What is diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is a common set of symptoms most often caused by a bowel infection called gastroenteritis. It is signified by frequent loose stools passing through your system quickly.

Depending on the cause of the infection, diarrhoea can be short term or long term, as is the case for conditions like irritable bowl syndrome (IBS). Most cases of diarrhoea last for a few days and can lead to a sudden, frequent need to immediately empty your bowels.

What is Travellers' Diarrhoea?

Traveller’s diarrhoea is a strand of diarrhoea mostly experienced by travellers during the first few days following their arrival in a foreign destination.

Up to 60 per cent of travellers from the West develop traveller’s diarrhoea within a week of visiting a resource-poor country with lower standards for sanitation and hygiene. And around 5 million people from the UK develop traveller’s diarrhoea each year.

The primary symptom of traveller’s diarrhoea, as with all strands of diarrhoea, is the passage of watery stools.

Sufferers are also likely to experience:

  • Cramps and abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Bloating
  • A frequent, urgent need to use the toilet
  • Passage of three or more loose stools within 24 hours
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and possibly vomiting

The dehydration caused by diarrhoea can also lead to further symptoms such as drowsiness, lightheadedness, muscle cramping and a rapid heartbeat.

Where are you most at risk of traveller’s diarrhoea?

Traveller’s diarrhoea occurs as the result of a bowel infection which is passed into the sufferer’s body primarily through poor hygienic conditions. Bacteria, viruses and parasites can all be responsible for the underlying bowel infection. Contaminated food or water is the most common vehicle for the bacteria to gain access to the body.

Street food, tap water, unwashed fruit and vegetables, shellfish and ice in drinks can all carry the infection.

The risk of developing traveller’s diarrhoea is higher in some countries than others. South East Asia, South Asia, Africa and South America all carry a high risk of the infection for travellers, whilst Eastern Europe, Southern Africa and Russia all carry a lesser risk.

How do you prevent traveller’s diarrhoea?

If the diarrhoea infection is widespread and present in the area you’re travelling to, traveller’s diarrhoea isn’t always preventable. However, there are certain precautions you can take to reduce your risk of acquiring the infection.

These include:

  • Washing your hands, especially after using the bathroom and when preparing food
  • Keeping yourself and your accommodation clean, especially the kitchen surfaces
  • Cooking meat thoroughly until it’s piping hot, and keeping raw meat separate
  • Washing utensils, including shared cutlery, crockery and towels
  • Drinking only sealed, bottled water

How do you treat traveller’s diarrhoea?

If you do develop traveller’s diarrhoea, it’s important to rest for at least two days and to stay extremely hydrated. Drink lots of water and consume foods rich in electrolytes like bananas, rice, fruit juice, spinach, cheese and clear soups.

Antibiotics are the most effective way to treat bacterial traveller’s diarrhoea, and speed up your recovery times. Traveller’s diarrhoea medication such as Azithromycin kills bacteria in individuals travelling to South Asia and South East Asia, where the infection is most common.

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