Up to 5 in 10 people get travellers diarrhoea... Here's how to prevent it.
Planning a trip overseas?
Have you put “prevent travellers diarrhoea” on your itinerary?
What is Travellers Diarrhoea (TD)?
TD is an infection of the digestive tract that is primarily caused by bacteria. While there are many types of pathogenic bacteria out there, majority of TD is caused by Enterotoxigenic E. Coli (ETEC). Other common bacterial causes include Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella species and Shigella species.
Once these bacteria enter your body, they nest, reproduce, and this is when shit gets real!
It typically takes a few days to develop symptoms of TD, and here's what to expect:
Watery bowel motions (diarrhoea)
Bowel movement urgency
And sometimes fever, vomiting and headaches
Seek immediate medical attention if you have blood in your stools or your motions are extremely painful!
How do you get Travellers Diarrhoea?
According to the Centre for Disease Control, an estimated 10 million international travellers contract some form of TD each year.
That’s somewhere between 20-50% of all travellers!
TD starts after pathogenic bacteria enter your body, often as passengers on ill prepared or mishandled food. They also enter via contaminated water, maybe through drinking it, opening your mouth in the shower or eating salads that cradle it.
Why don’t we get Travellers Diarrhoea in our own country?
Well there are a few reasons for this....
The first is that developed countries like Australia have very strict food safety regulations.
The second is that most developed countries have very clean water supplies. For example, most areas in Australia supply super high standard filtered tap water.
The third reason is where things get quite interesting, particularly in terms of your gut health. When you're in your native country, your body gets use to the common types of bacteria that you come in contact with daily. However when travelling thousands of kilometres from your home, you face an entirely new bacterial community that your body has unlikely never encountered before. And snap... if some of these bad guys hit your gut and grow in large enough numbers, TD will likely result!
This is likely why locals in developing countries don’t experience TD, as well as why we adjust the longer we stay in a particular area.
And so... how do you prevent Travellers Diarrhoea?
Wash your hands well – e.g. Travel with hand sanitizer.
Use bottled water – e.g. For drinking, brushing your teeth, etc...
Avoid swimming/surfing in suspect water – e.g. Beaches with sewage outlets
Make smart food choices- e.g. avoid raw foods, choose foods that are cooked and served hot, and avoid ice. Click here for more on food safety
Take a probiotic
Probiotics that help to prevent Travellers Diarrhoea
Probiotics are living organisms that support our gut health. In relation to travelling, they can strengthen our immune systems, as well as aid in the process of adjusting to the presence of new types of bacteria. One such probiotic strain (there are hundreds) that may assist in preventing TD is Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii).
S. boulardii is a live yeast that falls under the fungus umbrella. Studies show that it can help to prevent and treat digestive infections such as rotaviral diarrhea in children, diarrhea caused by bacterial overgrowth, and diarrhea caused by antibiotic use. Furthermore, S. boulardii has been shown to reduce the incidence of TD.
A meta-analysis of 12 randomised control trials of various probiotics (including S. boulardii) for the prevention of TD found a significant reduction in the risk of TD when probiotics are used.
Probiotics such as S. boulardii may protect you from TD via:
Regulating your intestinal microbial homeostasis
Preventing pathogenic bacteria colonising and infecting your mucosa
Modulating your immune response
And stabilising your gastrointestinal barrier function
Basically, probiotics are like setting up an army in your gut to defend you against foreign invaders whilst you're travelling. They also get your immune system prepped and ready to fight.
For best practise, consult with a Dietitian for Probiotic recommendations before travelling.