Travel Health - Preventing and Treating Travellers Diarrhea & Cholera

Dec 14, 2016

By Barret Procyshyn

With the first cold snap of the year taking us into the -40°C wind chill, I think more Canadians are going to start thinking about heading south for a warm holiday. Travelling to a warm country can be expensive, but a very fun investment. If you are investing in the fun, ensure you also invest in staying as healthy as possible during your trip.

There are two main reasons to consider your health while travelling; the first being that feeling sick during your precious week down south could really ruin a fun time. I've heard plenty of stories of a spouse relaxing down by the pool, while the other partner is stuck up in the room scared to be more than a few steps from the washroom. The second reason to plan for a healthy trip is because while southern countries have nice beaches and weather, their healthcare facilities and medications are sub standard.

Traveller's diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers, because it is easily spread from person to person or by consuming contaminated food or water. Up to 40% of travelers will get it in some type of noticeable severity. Travellers diarrhea is really a simple term grouping infection from bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, parasites (such as our "beaver fever" friend giardia), or viruses like norovirus. Another illness appearing as diarrhea, Cholera, can also wreak havoc on your holiday. You are at higher risk if travelling to destinations with poor sanitation and hygiene. High risk destinations include Mexico, Central America, South America and Asia. Moderate risk is found in the Caribbean like Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Cuba.

The symptoms vary based on the type of infection and severity can be from mild to "vacation ruining". In addition to the diarrhea, fever, vomiting, severe bloating, cramping and nausea can all strike. Most importantly instead of poolside, you will be staying close to the bathroom. If severe or left untreated dehydration can occur.

There are some things you can do to treat diarrhea. Drinking lots of fluids and oral rehydration solutions is important. Using water from a safe source is crucial, such as boiled or bottled water. Always avoid caffeinated beverages as they cause further dehydration. Anti-motility medication helps symptoms, and should always be taken with you on a trip (Tip: We sell Atoma brand loperamide at the pharmacy). It is also a good idea to pack Pepto Bismol tablets in your suitcase, as they have shown to shorten the length of a traveller's diarrhea attack. Sometimes antibiotics can also help, so speak to your doctor about taking a course with you. The great news about traveller's diarrhea is that it clears up in a few days. The question is if you really want to chance wasting three to four days of a short holiday?

Aside from safe food and water precautions, frequent hand washing also greatly reduces your risk of traveller's diarrhea. If you want to protect yourself against the bacteria causing travellers diarrhea, the Dukoral vaccine is a great option. Dukoral protects against E. coli bacteria and cholera, which very commonly causes troublesome stomach issues. Dukoral does not require a prescription and can be purchased at the pharmacy. The oral vaccine, taken at least two weeks before travel for optimal effectiveness, provides protection for up to three months. If you have already taken Dukoral within five years, only one booster dose is needed. Dukoral gave be given to most adults and children over the age of 2 years old. While it is an added expense for your holiday, it can be a trip saver for you and your family.

If you are travelling on a holiday this winter, stop by the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy and speak to your pharmacist about properly preparing for a vacation. For the 730 CKDM pharmacy feature and for the team at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy, helping make life better, I am Barret Procyshyn.


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