Is travelers' diarrhea caused by poor quality drinking water?

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In short, yes. Just like drinking from a water supply such as a stream can sometimes prove unsafe, drinking untreated water from an underdeveloped country can be hazardous too. But there are some common-sense approaches to just how widespread traveler's diarrhea is. For example, waterborne diarrhea illness usually results from the ingestion of viruses and parasites in water contaminated by human or agricultural fecal waste. The lesser importance of water as a cause of travelers' diarrhea is likely due to the relatively lower concentration of contaminating organisms in liquid versus solid foods.

Although commercially bottled water is generally safe, the unscrupulous practice of selling tap water as "safe, purified, bottled water" is not uncommon in some regions of the world. Carbonated beverages are generally too acidic to sustain enteric pathogens and are therefore safe to drink. The processes involved in the making of beer and other alcohol-containing drinks usually ensure that these beverages are also free of enteric pathogens. However, the ice cubes that are frequently added to carbonated and alcoholic beverages are often made from potentially contaminated tap water. Freezing water may in fact act as a preservative for some enteric pathogens. The risk of travelers' diarrhea from brushing teeth with tap water is probably small due to the low inoculum of organisms and the possible antibacterial properties of toothpaste. Swallowing water while taking showers or swimming in chlorinated pools likely carries a lower risk due, once again, to the low inoculum of organisms.

What exactly is traveler's diarrhea? And what do you do if you do contract it?

Traveler's diarrhea is a term used to describe diarrhea caused by infection with bacteria, protozoa, or viruses ingested by consuming food or water that has been contaminated. Two life-threatening types of traveler's diarrhea are caused by cholera and giardiasis. What are the causes of traveler's diarrhea? Traveler's diarrhea describes a specific condition that happens when visitors from countries that have good public sanitation and hygiene travel to countries that have poor public sanitation and hygiene. These are often the developing countries, including those located in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Traveler's diarrhea is caused by drinking water or eating foods contaminated with fecal material.

What are the symptoms of traveler's diarrhea? A normal course of traveler's diarrhea lasts about 3 to 7 days and may be accompanied by:

  • bloating
  • urgency
  • fatigue
  • loose, watery stools

Can traveler's diarrhea be prevented? The best preventives for traveler's diarrhea are:

  • only use water that has been boiled or chemically disinfected.
  • do not eat food or drink beverages from unknown sources.
  • any raw food could be contaminated, including fruits, vegetables, salad greens, unpasteurized milk and milk products, raw meat, shellfish, or any fish caught in tropical reefs rather than the open ocean

Although antibiotics, antimicrobial drugs, antidiarrheals, as well as other over-the-counter medications are sometimes used as preventives, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend their use without the specific advice and supervision of a physician. Taking any medication without medical supervision can be dangerous. In addition to side effects or allergic reactions, long-term use of medications can mask symptoms that may need medical attention.

What is the treatment for traveler's diarrhea: Traveler's diarrhea, although uncomfortable and unpleasant, usually lasts only a few days. Dehydration (loss of fluids) can be a serious side effect, especially for children and babies. Drinking plenty of non-contaminated fluids is important. For diarrhea that is worse than normal or lasts more than three days, it is best for the traveler to consult a physician rather than try self-medication - especially for pregnant women and children. As always, seek medical help when pain or discomfort is intolerable.

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