The most common cause for traveler’s diarrhea is the bacterium E. coli. This widespread organism normally lives in our intestines and plays a role in digestion. But different types of E. coli can cause diarrhea by producing a toxin that prevents the intestines to absorb water consumed as liquids and food.
Bacteria of the genus Shigella and Salmonella can cause diarrhea and a small number of cases are caused by rotaviruses or by the parasite called Giardia lamblia. Food changes, fatigue, jet lag and altitude sickness were all incriminated in motivating traveler’s diarrhea, but about half of the cases remain unexplained.
There are ways to help your body fight with traveler’s diarrhea
- Drink water. Through dehydration due to electrolyte and water loss, you could die. If you fail to replace the lost fluids, you could be dehydrated within only 24 hours.
- Check your urine. The darker the urine, the more fluids you need. Urine should be light, pale yellow. If dark urine persists, especially if the stool is light yellow, you must immediately do liver tests.
- Use a rehydration solution. These drinks contain sugar and salt and help replace electrolytes lost through diarrhea. They also help the intestines absorb water. Rehydration sachets are sold without prescription.
- Drink fruit juice or weak tea, sweetened. Concentrated bottled drinks are also very good, but shake them before drinking in order to remove the carbonic acid.
- An antidiarrheal drug containing pectin and bismuth basic carbonate is sold without prescription and can be an ally of the travelers. It gives consistency and firmness to the stools and kills bacteria. Do not worry if the tongue and diarrhea stool become black; it is a side effect of bismuth carbonate.
- Natural fiber-based laxatives for constipation also help in diarrhea. Some may absorb an amount of water representing about 60 times their weight, forming a gel in the intestine.
- Go for an exam. If the symptoms persist upon returning home, a coprologic exam will have to be done. Without treatment, bacteria and parasites can remain the unwanted holiday souvenirs for months.