Avoiding Travellers’ Diarrhoea

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There are several things which you should avoid while travelling:  

  • Meat, fish or seafood which hasn’t been cooked properly or sauces which are not served hot.
  • The cooking process often kills the bacteria which can cause diarrhoea, as they cannot survive high temperatures.
  • Unpasteurised dairy products. The pasteurisation process has a similar effect to cooking, limiting the growth of bacteria.
  • Tap water (as well as ice cubes which contain untreated water). Many areas have ineffective methods for removing contaminants such as sewage from mains water supplies.
  • Fruit, vegetables and salads which are ground grown.
  • Cooked meats which have been stored in unrefrigerated conditions before consumption.
  • Food from street vendors (unless you can see it being prepared and it is served hot). Street vendors may not clean their hands or cooking utensils properly, and may not adhere to the same standards of food freshness or cleanliness as restaurants.
  • Try not to accidentally ingest water from swimming pools if your head goes underwater while you swim. The same applies for rivers, lakes or coastal waters which are close to a settlement; these could contain sewage or other contaminated water.

In addition to taking the above action, you should always wash your hands before eating, use bottled water to wash food, and drink bottled water rather than tap water. However, despite taking the above measures you are still at risk if you travel to an area with poor sanitation levels. The bacteria, viruses and microscopic amounts of faecal matter which are the most frequent causes of travellers’ diarrhoea are not visible to the naked eye. However, it is easier to spot the areas and conditions where they can be found. Tap water in low-income areas may well contain bacteria or small amounts of faecal matter. If you are visiting the region, your body will not be used to dealing with these unfamiliar bacteria and you should avoid drinking any water which is not bottled. You should also avoid eating food which has been prepared, stored or handled in unsanitary conditions or by people who have not washed their hands or utensils.

What about vaccination?

There are such a high number of potential causes of travellers’ diarrhoea that no one vaccine exists to prevent it. However, based on your destination and other information your doctor might be able to suggest the most appropriate vaccine or other preventative measures. Ensuring that you are prepared to deal with travellers’ diarrhoea before you travel, for example by purchasing a Travellers’ Diarrhoea Pack, will reduce the chances of your plans being affected should you fall ill.

Are there any places which I should avoid?

Travellers to South Asia, South America and sub-Saharan Africa are found to be more likely to suffer from gastrointestinal infections upon returning home. While these areas should not be avoided outright by travellers, you should research preventative measures before your departure and take some form of hydration aid and/or anti-motility agent. It is also a good idea to check which areas of the world or which regions within a country have the highest risk of contracting this illness. Upon arrival you can enquire as to whether the tap water is safe to drink, if you are unsure then stick to bottled water. It may be that you do not develop and symptoms while you are travelling, but they do present when you return home.

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