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What is Traveler's Diarrhea?

Traveler's diarrhea (TD) is a familiar experience for many people who have traveled extensively in the developing world. This illness is characterized by abdominal cramping and frequent loose stool. Traveler's diarrhea also has a number of nicknames, such as Montezuma's revenge, Delhi belly, Thai-del wave, and so forth, usually referencing regions of the developing world. While this condition is usually not very pleasant, it is not typically dangerous.

Cases of traveler's diarrhea are most commonly reported among travelers visiting countries of a lower socioeconomic status than their own. Economic and social problems tend to lead to a decrease in the quality of sanitation, greatly increasing the risk of consuming contaminated food or water. Traveler's diarrhea is very common in the developing world, and rather unusual in industrialized nations.

The condition typically has a very rapid onset, and it may appear while traveling, or after returning home. The rumbling stomach is usually the first symptom, followed by pain and cramping in the abdomen and loose stool. Depending on how severe the traveler's diarrhea is, it may be totally debilitating, or merely uncomfortable.

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Bacterial or viral agents can be responsible for traveler's diarrhea. Most of the time, the best thing to do is to let the illness run its course, drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated in the process. However, a prolonged bout of traveler's diarrhea or observations of blood in the stool are cause for a trip to the doctor. Doctors can test the stool and prescribe appropriate medications to knock out the organisms causing the distress.

It can be a challenge to avoid traveler's diarrhea, depending on where one travels. Essentially, travelers need to watch what they eat and drink. Ideally water should be purified or boiled before consumption, and food should be thoroughly cooked and handled safely. Some travelers, including this wiseGEEK author, stick to extremely spicy food, in the belief that the spice helps to reduce the potential bacterial population of the food, although this has not been scientifically verified.

Eating where the locals do is not necessarily the best way to avoid traveler's diarrhea. Locals are already acclimated to the various organisms which may be present in the food, and a meal which makes you sick may not bother them in the least. It is also common for food handlers and citizens to carry their own unique pathogens without showing signs of disease, so avoid things like peeled fruits and salads, as they cannot be washed. You should also avoid foods which are out of season or transported across a long distance, such as seafood served inland.

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