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Quick Facts

Traveler's Diarrhea

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

What is traveler’s diarrhea?

Traveler’s diarrhea is diarrhea (loose, watery poop) you get while traveling in areas of the world where the water has germs in it because it isn't treated (purified) properly. In these areas, you can get sick when you drink water, eat uncooked food, or eat food that was washed or made using water.

Bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli) in the water are the usual cause of traveler's diarrhea. But viruses like norovirus (especially on cruise ships) and other bacteria, viruses, and parasites can also cause it.

  • You get traveler’s diarrhea from bacteria, parasites, or viruses that are in the water you drink or on the food you eat

  • Symptoms usually start 12 to 72 hours after having consumed infected food or water and last for 3 to 5 days

  • You’re more likely to get traveler’s diarrhea when visiting developing countries where the water isn't purified well

  • To prevent traveler’s diarrhea, drink only bottled drinks, use bottled water to brush your teeth, and don't use ice cubes or eat uncooked fruits and vegetables

Go to the hospital if you have a fever or bloody diarrhea.

What are the symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea?

  • Feeling sick to your stomach

  • Diarrhea

  • Throwing up

If you have a lot of vomiting and diarrhea, you'll get dehydrated and feel weak.

How can doctors tell if I have traveler’s diarrhea?

Doctors will ask about your symptoms. Doctors don’t usually test for traveler’s diarrhea. In some cases, they may take a sample of your stool (poop) to test it for bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

How do doctors treat traveler’s diarrhea?

Doctors will tell you to:

  • Drink plenty of fluids

  • Sometimes take medicine to stop your diarrhea, such as loperamide

  • Sometimes take antibiotics

Children under 2 years old and adults with a fever or bloody diarrhea shouldn’t take medicine to stop diarrhea.

If you have 3 or more loose stools over 8 hours, doctors may give you an antibiotic.

If tests find a parasite in your stool, doctors will give you medicine to treat the parasite.

How can I prevent traveler’s diarrhea?

  • Eat and drink only in restaurants known to have safe food—foods that are cooked and served hot are usually safe

  • If you want to eat fruit, eat only fruit that you peel yourself

  • Drink only bottled drinks or boiled water

  • Don't eat food from street vendors, buffets, and fast food restaurants

  • Don't eat salads with uncooked vegetables or fruit or salsa left on the table in open containers

  • Ask for drinks with no ice cubes, or make sure that ice cubes are made with water that has been boiled

  • Use bottled water to brush your teeth instead of local tap water

If you have a weak immune system, your doctor may give you an antibiotic to prevent traveler’s diarrhea.