Avoiding Travelers’ Diarrhea: A Guide To Staying Healthy While Traveling

(Map showing risk levels of traveler’s diarrhea. Source: TravellersDiarrhoea.co.uk)

A good friend of mine recently returned from a week long vacation in South America with what appears to be travelers’ diarrhea in tow. The first thing I said to her when she walked through the door was “you look terrible!” It is something that you do not want to get while abroad, or even something you want to take home with you. It is very uncomfortable, causing you to run to the washroom very frequently, and let’s just say, it is especially horrible to have on a long haul flight. Having had experienced this awful illness myself,  I thought I would write a quick guide on preventing travelers’ diarrhea while abroad.

Wash It, Peel It, Cook It, or Forget It

If you can’t wash it yourself with bottled water, if you can’t peel it, and if you can’t cook it, then you should forget eating it (i.e. lettuce). It is what you eat and drink while you are away that will cause you to get sick. This is not to say you should only eat packaged and processed food while abroad, but that you should follow the simple rule of wash it, peel it, cook it, or forget it.

Only Drink Bottled Water

Even if your ancestors are from the part of the world which you are visiting, that does not mean that your body is immune to any bacteria that might be found in the tap water of the country you are visiting. Even if the locals drink the tap water and tell you it is safe to drink, you should avoid it as the bacteria in the water could cause travelers’ diarrhea. Also, when brushing your teeth, try to remember to rinse with bottled water as well. This will prevent you from drinking the water from the tap accidentally.

Wash Your Hands

You can get sick at home if you do not wash your hands, so being abroad should be no exception. If you cannot find access to clean water, remember to pack a bottle of liquid hand sanitizer before you go.

Avoid Eating Meat

Meat is one of those foods that if it is not cooked properly will cause you to get food poisoning, both at home and abroad. Some countries might not have strong policies on food storage as we do in the Western World, so be sure you eat meat only from vendors that you can trust. Especially avoid “street meat”. It might be cheap, but it may ruin your trip.

Get Vaccinated Before You Leave

Although this is a personal choice, you can get vaccinated before you leave. In Canada, the vaccine you take comes in an oral form called Dukoral. I have never taken this vaccine as I consulted a pharmacist who informed me that it is not worth the $100 (not covered by drug plans) since you can take measures to prevent getting it (such as the wash it, peel it, cook it, or forget it rule). Totally up to you, but be sure to speak to a medical professional (both family doctor AND pharmacist) to discuss your options based on your health history.

Check Travel Advisory Boards 

One of my favourite websites is the Government of Canada Travel Advice and Advisories. Here you can find out all sorts of information about the country you wish to visit. Be sure to check it out before traveling to see if you need any vaccinations as some countries do require this, and to see if there are any other health warnings you should know about. 

For more information about travelers’ diarrhea, please check out the Government of Canada website. 

Happy and Healthy Travels Everyone!


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