Traveler’s diarrhea (or “turista”) is a generally benign infection, most often caused by bacteria, which temporarily disturbs intestinal microbiota.
Contrary to popular opinion, traveler’s diarrhea is not related to exotic food that unaccustomed stomachs can’t digest; it’s a real infection, most often bacterial, sometimes parasitic, and more rarely viral.
Traveler’s diarrhea, which is very common, affects 40% of tourists visiting developing countries. Roughly 160 million people were affected by diarrhea in 2009!
Take basic hygiene precautions
The primary vectors of the bacteria that cause turista are contaminated food, in particular raw vegetables, undercooked meat or fish, unpeeled fruit, and tap water. As a result, prevention of traveler’s diarrhea is largely based on hygiene measures: frequent handwashing and food safety.
Dehydration, the primary risk of turista
The symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea generally appear in the very first days of a trip: multiple evacuations of liquid stool (at least 3 times per day), often along with nausea, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. The primary risk is from dehydration.
Drink a lot and eat a little
Rehydration is the foundation for treating traveler’s diarrhea: clean water (bottled water…) and herbal tea, to be drunk often and in small quantities. Any water intake that is slightly sweet or salty is recommended. At the same time, a special diet is required for a few days: no fruit or vegetables (except apples and bananas), which are too high in fiber, but include rice.
Antibiotics should be taken only to treat severe cases.
Probiotics (ex. Saccharomyces boulardii), can be useful as a preventative measure and to limit the severity of traveler’s diarrhea.