Travelers' Diarrhea After Travel: Sign, Cause, and Treatment

Travelers' diarrhea is a disorder of the digestive track that causes loose bowel movements. If you are vacationing to a spot with a different climate or sanitary conditions, you have a greater risk of developing it. It usually begins suddenly during a trip or when you just get home. Its cause is food or water that has been contaminated. It is not generally serious, though it can be very miserable.

What Are the Symptoms of Travelers' Diarrhea After Returning Home

Travelers'diarrhea usually happens suddenly when travelling or when you have just returned home. It generally clears up within a couple of days, but can take as long as a week or so. There are some who will have more than one or two episodes of travelers' diarrhea during a single trip.

Common symptoms or signs:

  • Sudden increased in loose stools in a day
  • Sudden urgent defecation need.
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

There are some people who will have mild to severe dehydration, severe vomiting, high fever, blood in their stools, stomach and rectum pain. If you or your family have these troubles and have symptoms for longer than just a few days, you should see your physician.

When to See a Doctor

If your travelers' diarrhea after returning home doesn’t go away in a few days or symptoms become more severe you may have a problem that isn’t common bacteria. Your doctor may need to prescribe you medication to resolve it. If you have a fever, dehydration, vomiting or bloody stools, see your doctor’s help. If you are still abroad, your embassy may help you find a doctor that speaks your language. Be extra careful with children as they can get dehydrated much faster. Call your doctor if your child has:

  • A fever over 102 degrees F
  • Bloody stools or severe diarrhea
  • Severe vomiting
  • Dry mouth, or no tears when they cry
  • Overly drowsy, sleepy and unresponsive
  • Less urine, or fewer diapers

What Causes Travelers' Diarrhea After Returning Home?

When you eat food or drink water that has certain microbes or poisons, you can end up falling victim to travelers' diarrhea. Some germs that can cause it include:

  • Bacteria: Most commonly travelers' diarrhea is caused by one form of bacteria such as:

Escherichia coli




  • Viruses: This is another common cause of travelers' diarrhea, in particular rotavirus and norovirus.
  • Parasites: They are the least common cause. Giardia, Entamoeba histolytica and cryptosporidium are some examples of parasites.

There are many times the cause is not found, in in some cases no microbe is found despite testing.

Is Every Traveler at Risk?

Travelers' diarrhea is most often found when people are coming from a developed country to one that isn’t as developed. This is generally when sanitation and hygiene isn’t up to standard and it may affect from two to six percent of travelers. Different areas pose different risks, for instance:

  • High-Risk Zones: Central America, North and West African, South and Southeast Asia, East Africa and South America.
  • Medium-Risk Zone: China, Russian, South Africa, and Caribbean.
  • Low-Risk Zones: North American, Australia, Western Europe, and New Zealand.

There are occasions when outbreaks will happen to travelers staying in a hotel or on a cruise ship. Those who are in remote areas may have more trouble as well. Backpackers are more at risk than those on business trips in nice hotels.

Your risk for travelers' diarrhea is in large part determined by where you travel to. There are certain groups of people, however that have a larger risk. These folks are:

  • Those with weak immune systems
  • Young adults
  • Those with inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver.
  • Those who are on antacids
  • Those travelling during particular seasons, such as hitting South Asia in the hot months right before monsoons

How to Treat Travelers' Diarrhea

Travelers' diarrhea after returning home tends to resolve itself quickly so you generally won’t need treatment. You want to remember to stay hydrated with liquids that are safe. Try to drink between 2-3 quarts daily. In the first 24 hours, stick to bottled fruit juices, hot tea and broth. You have to try to replenish what you lose in stools daily. After this, you can try bland foods such as soup, cereal, crackers, bread or eggs. If you are progressing well then return to normal foods on day three.

In some severe cases, you may need to take OTC medicine to find relief. Imodium and other antimotility agents can give relief and provide consistency to your stools. Many professionals urge you to only use these in emergencies, such as during airplane travel. This is because the decreased motility may make the disease worse.

Pepto-Bismol or Bismuth Subsalicylate also provides some relief. Use as directed by your physician or on the package. For some, antibiotics will be needed. Your doctor may prescribe any of the following:

  • Ofloxacin (Floxin)
  • Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim DS)
  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
  • Doxycycline (Vibramycin)
  • Norfloxacin (Noroxin)

How to Prevent Travelers' Diarrhea

One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to wash your hands and dry them thoroughly. Teach your children to do the same. This is especially important when:

  • You’ve used the bathroom, changed a diaper or helped a child use the bathroom.
  • You are preparing food or drinks.
  • You are about to eat.

Other prevention tips include:

  • Hand sanitizer comes in travel sizes and you should keep it on hand to use when soap and water isn’t available.
  • Be cautious about what you eat and drink.
  • When in areas that have poor sanitation, avoid water and food that could have germs or toxins. Steer clear from:

Street vender juice

Tap water

Ice cubes

Ice cream unless from purified water

Shellfish and uncooked seafood


Raw and undercooked meat


Fruit with damaged skin or that’s been peeled

Food with uncooked eggs such as in mayonnaise and sauces

Milk that hasn’t been pasteurized

Safe drinks include water and fizzy drinks that are sealed such as coffee, alcohol, tea, and soda. You do want to avoid ice cubes even in alcohol and non-bottled water. Food needs to be cooked well and hot when served. Avoid buffets, street vendors and markets. Fresh bread tends to be safe, as does canned food and sealed food.

Use caution when swimming. Swimming in contaminated water can be a cause of travelers' diarrhea. Avoid swallowing water when swimming and teach children to do the same.