Traveler's diarrhea is a stomach and intestinal infection that occurs as a result of unsanitary handling of food. Food handlers who do not wash their hands after they use the bathroom can transmit the infection to people who consume the contaminated food.
Areas where there is the highest risk of contracting traveler's diarrhea include the developing countries of Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. The risk of infection varies depending on the type of eating establishment visited -- from fairly low risk in private homes to high risk in food from street vendors.
Traveler's diarrhea usually lasts from 3 to 7 days and is rarely life threatening.
How Do I Treat Traveler's Diarrhea?
As with all diseases, it is best to consult a doctor rather than attempting to self-medicate for traveler's diarrhea. This is especially relevant for pregnant women and children.
Pepto-Bismol (2 ounces four times daily or two tablets four times daily) decreases the diarrhea and shortens the duration of the illness. This medication also appears to be effective in preventing traveler's diarrhea, but it should not be taken for more than three weeks at a time.
Treatment also requires the replacement of fluids and salts lost from diarrhea. This is best achieved by use of an oral rehydration solution such as the World Health Organization oral rehydration salts (ORS) solution. ORS packets are available at stores or pharmacies in almost all developing countries.
ORS is prepared by adding one packet to boiled or treated water. Packet instructions should be followed carefully to ensure that the salts are added to the correct volume of water. ORS solution should be consumed or discarded within 12 hours if stored at room temperature or within 24 hours if refrigerated.