With late spring and early summer months being one of the busiest times for Canadians to travel, it is important to know about the common illnesses that can occur when traveling abroad and some simple steps and precautions that you can take so that your vacation is not ruined.
One of the most common complaints Dr. Ali Ghahary hears from Canadians who travel abroad is intestinal distress – also known as “traveler’s tummy.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many as 30 to 70 percent of travellers suffer from intestinal illness as a direct result of travel. Those most at risk for travel-related illness are pregnant women, elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems.
The most common cause of intestinal related illness in those who travel is due to bacteria, particularly E.coli, Salmonella, or Norovirus, which are all usually as a result of introducing new or foreign diets from your place of travel. Other causes of intestinal illness can include climate change, stress and lack of sleep.
While on vacation, there are some very easy safety measures that you can take to avoid coming down with such an illness, although these are measures that people oftentimes forget about or don’t consider. For example, the food and beverages that you are used to having at home can be different depending on where you choose to travel, thus, your body is not accustomed to such an immediate dietary change. While it is important to stay hydrate when vacationing in warmer climates, water from abroad can also oftentimes be contaminated with bacteria, so you should always drink bottled water whenever possible while traveling somewhere that you are unfamiliar with – it is a great, safe alternative. Similarly, ice cubes can also contain bacteria, so it is important to avoid using those all together. Foods abroad also contain certain fertilizers, which can also carry bacteria and trigger gastrointestinal upset. Cold meats, cheeses, and foods from buffets are all rampant to bacteria. Salas and shellfish such as clams, oysters and mussels also carry contaminants and should be avoided.
The highest-risk of foodborne illnesses come from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Certain parts of Eastern Europe, the Caribbean Islands, and South Africa are considered to be an intermediate risk, whereas the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are low-risk.
The symptoms of travel-related illness can be quite unpleasant, ranging in everything from nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. In severe cases one may experience dehydration as well as malnutrition. You should seek immediate medical attention if there is blood in your stool, you are running a fever, are vomiting, or symptoms persist longer than 48 hours. It is important to keep yourself hydrated with fluids such as Gatorade, in addition to taking over-the-counter medications such as Pepto Bismol or Immodium. Your physician may also prescribe antibiotics such as Cipro or Levofloxacin.