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Traveller's Diarrhoea

By Bjarne Lühr Hansen PhD, MD and Philipp Skafte-Holm MD, Mentor Institute

Most people who have travelled abroad for longer periods know about traveller’s diarrhoea, which brings frequent and watery defecation. The illness typically starts very suddenly and lasts for 3 to 4 days. Most will also have periodic pains in the stomach with nausea and possible vomiting. Some have fever up to 38.5°C.

The most important treatment for traveller’s diarrhoea is the intake of fluids. The frequently used cola and 7-up for children are only recommended if diluted. Three parts of water for one part soft drink – if you use cola or 7-up undiluted there is a risk that the condition might worsen.

The watery defecation and vomiting arises because the bacteria or virus that has entered the intestines are producing toxins. It is the toxins that cause traveller’s diarrhoea. It is therefore of no use to treat with antibiotics. The antibiotics will kill the bacteria but the toxins has already been formed and will continue to cause diarrhoea and vomiting. Furthermore, antibiotics cause even more watery defecations – a known side effect of antibiotics. Only if the child has diarrhoea for more than one week, if there is blood in its stool or if the temperature is higher than to 38.5°C the child may be in need of antibiotics – but consult a doctor first.

As mentioned earlier, the intake of fluids is incredibly important because the child loses fluids when suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. But what can the child have to eat? Pretty much everything and especially the child’s favourite dishes. The toxins that cause traveller’s diarrhoea are more quickly excreted if the child eats. In other words, the child will get better from eating. However, food will simultaneously lead to increased stomach-ache and diarrhoea for a short period. There is therefore little left to do but to feel one’s way. Let the child eat what it prefers but only a very small serving. If all is well after 30 minutes you can give the child a little bigger serving. If even small portions set off stomach-ache, diarrhoea or vomiting you have to wait a few hours before trying again.

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Contact the doctor tomorrow

If the diarrhoea continues for more than 1 week.

If the child suffers from vomiting, diarrhoea and fever for more than 2 days.

Contact the doctor immediately

If the child becomes weak and drowsy.

If there is blood in the stool and the fever is higher than 38.5°C.