How is travelers’ diarrhea treated?
Most forms of diarrhea will resolve in a few days without the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics used in a viral infection are of no use and may do harm as they kill off the “good” bacteria normally living in the gut, making it easier for other infections to take hold. Antibiotics can also have the side effect of causing diarrhea.

Medications to slow down the movement of food through the intestine may be given. These include loperamide (Imodium) and diphenoxylate with atropine (Lomotil).

Rehydration is very important. Electrolyte solutions replace fluid and salts that are lost during episodes of diarrhea. Plenty of clear liquids such as water, juices and soft drinks should also be consumed.

There are many different antibiotics that can be prescribed depending on the type of bacteria causing the diarrhea. Ideally, these should be prescribed once a definite diagnosis has been made, usually with the help of a stool sample test and culture. However, if a person is traveling to a remote place where medical help may not be easily available, antibiotics may be given in advance to be taken if necessary. In this case you would be given some criteria to aid you in deciding whether or not you need to take them if diarrhea occurs.

What can be done to prevent travelers’ diarrhea?

  • Be careful what you eat and drink when you are traveling. Freshly boiled food, eg, rice and sweet corn is safe to eat; food that may have been cooked a while before and left standing is not.
  • Avoid salads, shellfish, crab and prawns, unpeelable fruit and vegetables. Fruit that can be peeled, such as, avocados, bananas, citrus fruits and melons, is safe to eat.
  • Do not have ice in drinks and drink only bottled water. Do not use tap water, even for brushing teeth.
  • Wash your hands frequently, particularly before eating.

Further information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/travelers-diarrhea.htm

Last Reviewed: May 2013