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Travelers' Diarrhea: What You Need to Know

An Interview with CDC Travel Health Expert Phyllis Kozarsky
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Can medications prevent travelers' diarrhea? continued...

While this helps many people, those allergic to aspirin cannot take it. And if you're taking prescription medications, you should check with your doctor to see if you can take this.

Some swear by probiotics like lactobacillus for preventing travelers' diarrhea. But studies of this strategy in limited numbers of subjects are inconclusive.

And some people are given prophylactic antibiotics, which are very effective in preventing travelers' diarrhea, but the problem there is we don't feel very good about prescribing antibiotics for a number of reasons for someone if they don’t need them. There are issues such as side effects, or of diarrhea caused by the antibiotics themselves, and increased antibiotic resistance in the normal organisms we harbor in our bodies. Rarely, if it is just for a very important weekend, or occasionally for government officials or someone in an athletic competition, we may prescribe preventive antibiotics.

How can a change in diet trigger travelers' diarrhea?

It's due to eating different kinds of foods, such as much more spicy food or more fat than in our normal diets. That is not something we typically pay as much attention to avoiding when we travel, but we have to be wary of these things. Not every change in our bowel habits is due to infection. Infection is the most important cause of travelers' diarrhea and most is caused by bacteria.

Who is most likely to get travelers' diarrhea?

Some people are more susceptible than others, it's not clear why that is. You can be with a group and all consume the same thing, and some get sick while others do not.

There are a host factors involved. Stomach acid is our first defense mechanism against organisms that we ingest. Therefore, those on antacids, or who just have low stomach acid, often get travelers' diarrhea more easily. People who have underlying diseases of the gut, such as Crohn’s disease or AIDS, may be more susceptible to certain types of organisms causing travelers’ diarrhea.

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