Traveller’s Diarrhoea – no point in letting it run!

Did you know that traveller’s diarrhoea affects up to 30-70% of travelers, depending on the destination and season of travel?  While the common rule of “boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it” reduces the chance of travel’s diarrhoea, studies have shown that people who follow these rules can still get traveller’s diarrhoea.


Patients often ask us whether antibiotics are required for “gastro”.  In Australia, the majority of gastroenteritis is caused by viruses such as rotavirus or norovirus.  Viral gastroenteritis is self-limiting, will resolve within a few days and requires no treatment other than to ensure adequate fluid hydration and avoiding cross infection.  When gastroenteritis is contracted overseas, however, bacterial causes are common and accounts for 80-90% of traveller’s diarrhoea.  In this case, antibiotic treatment has a role.

If you have loose bowel motions without feeling unwell, you are unlikely to need treatment.  However antibiotics are indicated if it is acquired overseas in areas where traveller’s diarrhoea is common and you have the following symptoms:

  • More than 3 episodes diarrhoea within 24 hours
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Faecal urgency
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling that the bowel has not completely emptiedelephant splash

The type of antibiotics used to treat traveller’s diarrhoea depends on the destination you are travelling to as different regions have different levels of antibiotic resistance.  In general, 80% of traveller’s diarrhoea will resolve with simple antibiotics and most people start to improve within 6 hours.  People who fail to improve may have a bacterial infection that is resistant to the antibiotics or have contracted a non-bacterial gastroenteritis such as giardia and it’s recommended you seek medical advice.

Other simple things you can do to help if you have diarrhoea include:

  • Rehydration – in the form of Gastrolyte or diluted fruit juice or lemonade
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Stop cross infection by washing your hands and avoid sharing drinks, and cutlery with your friends and family
  • Avoid fatty or spicy food

If you have blood in the diarrhoea or if you are unable to successfully replace fluid loss, you should see a doctor immediately.  If the diarrhoea does not settle with these simple measures, you should also see your doctor as not all diarrhoea is caused by an infectious agent!


If you would like more information on Traveller’s Diarrhoea or to discuss any other Travel Health related issues, call 3257 0841 to make an appointment.  For more information on our Travel Clinic, visit: Doctors @ Teneriffe Travel Clinic.


Dr. Dora LeeDr. Dora Lee


Dr. Dora is a member of the International Society of Travel Medicine and has a certificate in Travel Health.  She has first hand experience that the advice “boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it” is not all that practical in certain corners of the world!