Help & Advice

What is Travellers’ Diarrhoea

Travellers’ diarrhoea is the term used to describe diarrhoea (more than 3 bowel movements in 24 hours) that is experienced by people who travel abroad. It is usually experienced by those who travel from industrialised countries like the UK, to developing countries such as Latin America, The Tropics and South East Asia. It is believed to affect approximately 20-60% of all travellers Worldwide. The stools may be watery and there may be other symptoms present such as: fever, abdominal cramps or pain, nausea and vomiting.

Causes of Travellers’ Diarrhoea

Travellers’ diarrhoea is usually contracted from contaminated water sources and food that has been prepared with contaminated water. The most common causes of travellers’ diarrhoea are bacteria and these account for 65-80% of all episodes of travellers’ diarrhoea. E. coli is the most common cause of bacterial traveller's diarrhoea. Parasites, such as Giardia lamblia, account for approximately 10% of infections. Viruses, such as rotavirus, account for approximately 5% of travellers’ diarrhoea.

Travellers’ Diarrhoea Diagnosis

Diagnosis is based on the symptoms you have and whether you have travelled to an area that may be associated with an increased risk of travellers’ diarrhoea. There are tests that can identify the specific cause of travellers’ diarrhoea but most people begin to improve without having the need for any investigation. If you travel abroad and develop diarrhoea you should begin to improve within 48 hours. If you do not improve within this time, become more unwell, cannot keep water down, or develop bloody diarrhoea and severe pain you must seek urgent medical attention, as you may need admission to hospital for treatment. You must also seek urgent medical attention if you develop severe abdominal pain or swelling and stop passing wind out of your rectum (back passage) or begin to vomit faeces.


Please be aware that children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with pre-existing health problems are at a much higher risk of becoming severely unwell and may need medical help sooner than others. Please remember when travelling abroad that not all diarrhoea is travellers’ diarrhoea and keep an open mind that there may be another cause for your symptoms. If you have any doubts about your health or somebody you are travelling with it is always best to seek medical advice.

Traveller's Diarrhoea Treatment

Travellers’ diarrhoea is easily treated with a course of oral antibiotics called Ciprofloxacin (for most areas excluding South East Asia) or Azithromycin (for South East Asia only). Treatment is highly successful if the antibiotics are taken exactly as instructed. Please note that antibiotics do not protect from future infection. It is possible to become re-infected with travellers’ diarrhoea at any point in the future-in this instance you must seek medical attention to confirm re-infection and must take the antibiotics again.