Traveler’s Diarrhea – Do I Need Antibiotics?

This is a controversial issue. Many international travelers pack some Cipro or another antibiotic in case Montezuma’s revenge strikes them with a fury. Are antibiotics the right choice for traveler’s diarrhea? Is there a risk? What else can travelers do?

Traveler’s diarrhea can develop abruptly and can limit your sightseeing to your hotel room toilet. This unlucky event occurs when a traveler ingests bacteria, or less likely a virus, from contaminated food or drink, or from hand to mouth contact. About half of all travelers to the developing world will develop this condition. While it is an unfortunate event, it does have a health benefit as these folks receive an aerobic workout as they sprint towards rest rooms several time a day.

If traveler’s diarrhea occurs, travelers can experience relief with Imodium, Pepto Bismol and prayer. Some physicians advise beginning antibiotics instead as even a single dose can shorten the illness. This strategy makes particular sense for travelers who are on a short trip. However, if the stools are bloody or the traveler has a fever, then you should consult with a physician right away as this may not be a simple case of traveler’s diarrhea.

Why shouldn’t every traveler who is starting to spurt and squirt just reach for some Cipro? The overuse of antibiotics has many serious side-effects. Beyond the expense, excessive antibiotic use breeds resistant germs which can become immune to currently available antibiotics. If Cipro or other antibiotics are taken automatically for traveler’s diarrhea, then the new & improved germs that may emerge may cause diarrhea and other illnesses that can’t be easily treated. In addition, antibiotics can cause a serious colon infection called C. difficile colitis (known as C. diff), which can be a serious and permanent illness that can change your life. I am a gastroenterologist and have seen patients who became miserable with this condition after only one or two antibiotic pills.

International travelers have many strategies to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. Review these precautions with your travel doctor before departure. Be cautious and be prepared. Bring imodium and antibiotics, just in case. You might want to pack your running shoes also. Hopefully, you’ll only need them to take afternoon jogs in the park.

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