When the intestines function normally, food and fluids pass from the stomach into the small intestine and then into the colon. Cells that line the small intestine absorb the nutrients and water the body needs.
Sometimes the cells become irritated and cannot properly absorb the water and nutrients from the food. When this happens, food and fluids can move through the colon too quickly. This results in what we know as diarrhea.
Two types of diarrhea are: non-infectious diarrhea, which is caused by stress, excitement, or change in diet; and infectious diarrhea, or Travelers' Diarrhea, which is caused by bacteria found in tap water and food.
Diarrhea is the most common travelers' malady, affecting 20 to 50 percent of Americans who travel abroad. Travelers' Diarrhea is most prevalent in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, some Caribbean islands, and most southern European countries.
If you experience a bout of diarrhea, health experts recommend that you:
- Prevent dehydration and replace lost fluids by drinking plenty of bottled water.
- Limit food intake to hot soups and tea, followed by bland crackers and dry toast. As your appetite grows, add simple baked foods.
- Take an over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication. (Note: National Institutes of Health recommend you pack an effective antidiarrheal product, because one may not be available at your destination.)
- Consult your physician regarding any additional medications that may be appropriate.
- Contact your physician if your diarrhea lasts more than two days, if you have a fever over 101°F, or if blood or mucus is present in the stool.
Food and Drink
Sampling regional cuisines is a great travel pleasure, provided you take a few simple precautions. To avoid illness, especially when visiting developing countries, travel health experts recommend that you:
- Drink only bottled water or hot beverages.
- Only eat fruits you have peeled yourself.
- Be sure that foods are well-cooked and arrive hot.
- Drink tap water or use ice cubes.
- Eat fruit that doesn't need peeling.
- Eat uncooked vegetables, including salads.
- Eat undercooked or raw meats, fish or shellfish.
- Drink unpasteurized milk or other dairy products.
- Eat foods sold by street vendors.