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Traveler's Diarrhea

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How is traveler's diarrhea treated? continued...

Nonprescription medicines

Nonprescription medicines may help treat diarrhea. Use nonprescription antidiarrheal medicine if you do not have other signs of illness, such as fever, abdominal cramping or discomfort, or bloody stools. If you have fever, bloody stools, or vomiting, antibiotics may be needed.

Bismuth subsalicylate, or BSS (such as Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate), has been shown to be effective in preventing and treating traveler's diarrhea. Bismuth subsalicylates may reduce the effectiveness of medicines taken to prevent malaria, should not be used for more than 3 weeks, and should not be taken by those who can't take aspirin. They may cause you to have a black tongue or black stools. The black color is usually not serious. Brushing your teeth and tongue after taking a BSS may keep your tongue from turning black. If your child or teen gets chickenpox or flu, do not treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medicines that contain bismuth subsalicylate or aspirin (such as Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, or Alka-Seltzer). If your child has taken this kind of medicine and he or she has changes in behavior with nausea and vomiting, call your doctor. These symptoms could be an early sign of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness.

Nonprescription medicines to slow diarrhea, such as loperamide (for example, Imodium), may be used to treat diarrhea but should not be used to prevent traveler's diarrhea because they can cause constipation.

If you have a high-risk medical condition such as diabetes or cancer, you take prescription medicines that cause diarrhea, or you are traveling with a child 11 years old or younger, seek advice from your doctor to determine what medicines you may want to take on your trip. Be aware that dehydration caused by diarrhea may alter the effectiveness of any medicines you are taking for other medical conditions.

Can I prevent traveler's diarrhea?

The best way to prevent traveler's diarrhea is to avoid food or water that may be contaminated. A good rule of thumb for food safety is, "If it's not boiled, well-cooked, or peeled, don't eat it." Raw seafood and milk products usually are high-risk foods for bacterial contamination. Dry foods, such as breads, or fruits that you can peel are safe to eat.

Avoid drinking local water where you are traveling. Beverages that are usually safe to drink include:

  • Tea and coffee if made with boiled water.
  • Carbonated bottled water or soda pop.
  • Bottled beer and wine.

Water also can be filtered or treated with iodine to make it safe to drink.

Also, be aware that contaminated water may be used to wash fruits and vegetables, clean utensils and plates, and make ice cubes. Brushing your teeth with untreated water also may increase your risk of infection.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 27, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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