Risk of Dehydration When Traveling

You may face an increased risk of dehydration when traveling for multiple reasons, including:

  • Traveler’s diarrhea is the most common health problem facing travelers to less developed countries – up to 50% of people travelling to high risk destinations may experience traveler’s diarrhea. The World Health Organization identifies DEHYDRATION as the most severe threat posed by traveler’s diarrhea.
  • Lack of humidity in a plane’s cabin air may also lead to dehydration during air travel for passengers, particularly during long-haul flights
  • Heavy sweating due to prolonged heat exposure – When you travel, you may visit hot and dry destinations where you are more likely to get hot…and SWEATY! Through sweat there is the loss of both fluid and electrolytes – this can lead to dehydration.

What is Traveler’s Diarrhea?

Traveler’s Diarrhea can be classified as three or more loose bowel actions with at least one of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps or pain, fever, or blood in the stool. Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea usually last for 3-7 days, enough to ruin any vacation.

Traveler’s diarrhea is commonly caused by consuming some form of contaminated food or water. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests only eating foods that have been cooked and served hot. Avoid foods that have been sitting out for a long time, such as buffets.

Common colloquial names for traveler’s diarrhea include: Stomach Flu, Delhi Belly, Rangoon Runs, Tourist, The Runs, The Trots, or Montezuma’s Revenge.

Traveler’s diarrhea is a common occurrence in many high-risk areas. These areas include Mexico, South America, parts of Asia, and Africa.

Most cases of traveler’s diarrhea result from bacterial pathogens, such as E. coli, Campylobacter, Shigella, or Salmonella. These are all bacteria that can be found in the drinking water in many of these high-risk areas. Fruits and vegetables are often washed with this same water. Viral and parasitic agents may also cause traveler’s diarrhea, but they are less common.

How to Manage the Symptoms of Dehydration caused by Traveler’s Diarrhea

According to the World Health Organization, health risks associated with travel are greater for certain types of travelers, including:

  • Infants and young children
  • Pregnant women
  • Seniors
  • The disabled
  • The immunocompromised
  • Those who have pre-existing health problems

For all suffers, rehydration is the most important aspect of managing traveler’s diarrhea. Anti-diarrhea medication does NOT replace lost fluid and electrolytes and only provides symptomatic relief.

The ideal fluid is an oral rehydration solution (Hydralyte). In addition, patients should:

  • Avoid high sugar drinks (e.g. soda or sports drinks, diluted cordial, or flat lemonade) – excess sugar can interfere with the rehydration process.
  • Aim to drink at least 2.1 – 3.2 QT (2–3 L) of fluid a day. Refer to directions of use on pack when drinking Hydralyte.
  • If hungry, eat dry starchy foods, e.g. dry toast, crackers.

Important: You cannot give anti-diarrhea medication to children under 12 years of age.

Learn more about managing dehydration associated with vomiting and diarrhea.
Tips to Avoid Traveler’s Diarrhea

  • Drink boiled or bottled water and avoid ice
  • Avoid eating raw foods
  • Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it!
  • Wash your hands!

Planning a trip? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends all travelers include an oral rehydration solution (Hydralyte) in their travel first aid kit.

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Going somewhere warm? Learn more about managing dehydration associated with prolonged heat exposure!

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