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- diagnosis & treatment
Before you start an assessment, please read all of the information below.
Traveller's diarrhoea is most commonly caused by food or water contaminated with bacteria. It can also sometimes be caused by viruses or parasites.
The highest risk areas include the Middle East, Africa, Central/ South America and Asia.
Symptoms typically last 3 to 4 days, generally settle of their own accord and tend to be mild. Usually, antibiotics are not necessary but may be beneficial in certain circumstances. We can provide the antibiotic Azithromycin as a standby treatment for Traveller's Diarrhoea to take with you before you travel. If however, you already have symptoms of diarrhoea then you will need to see a doctor.
Please see Common Treatments below for further information.
The risk of developing traveller's diarrhoea is dependent on the area you are travelling to:
High-risk: most parts of Asia, Central and South America, Africa and the Middle East.
Medium-risk: Southern Europe, Israel, Russia, some parts of the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands, South Africa.
Low-risk: North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan
There are regional differences in the risk of traveller's diarrhoea and estimates of incidence rates vary in different studies.
- diarrhoea during, or shortly after a journey abroad
- a fever
- nausea (feeling sick)
- abdominal cramps
Most episodes of travellers' diarrhoea are mild and self-limiting, and last around 3–4 days. Consider purchasing sachets of oral rehydration salts before travelling. Treatment with loperamide or Pepto-Bismol® may be considered for adults to relieve mild-to-moderate diarrhoea. Please consult a pharmacist about the suitability of these treatment options for you. You must not use them if you have blood or mucus in the stool and/or high fever or severe abdominal pain, and you should seek medical attention if you develop any of those symptoms.
Possible stand-by antibiotic treatment we may prescribe if clinically appropriate:
- Azithromycin 500MG once daily for 3 days ( £2.99*)
*Prices shown are cost price of the medication, taken from the British National Formulary 2018, and are given as a guideline. Pharmacies will add a dispensing fee to this which will vary considerably, so it is worthwhile phoning around to compare prices. The medication is paid for at your chosen pharmacy.
Please click on the medication above to read the Patient Information Leaflet for important information about the drug. We use national prescribing guidelines to select which treatment would be most appropriate for your condition.
Certain measures may help reduce the chances of developing traveller's diarrhoea:
- after using the toilet, before eating and before preparing any food
Antibacterial hand gel
- to use when water and soap are not available
If travelling to an area with poor sanitation then avoid:
- tap water
- ice cubes
- street food
- raw seafood and shellfish
- undercooked meat
- unpasteurised milk
- peeled/prepared fruit
The following advice may help with your symptoms:
Replace lost fluids
- Drink at least 200ml of safe drinking water after each diarrhoea in addition to what you would normally drink (which should be 1.5-2 litres daily).
- You can use rehydration salts if available as they help improve the water to be absorbed by the body.
- If vomiting then take small sips every few minutes.
Drinks to avoid
- Alcohol and other drinks and beverages with a diuretic effect (such as coffee and tea) should be avoided.
- eat small light meals if you can.
Anti-diarrhoea medication (Loperamide)
- Do not use if you have a fever or blood in your stool.
- Do not use for longer than two days.
- The medication works by slowing down your gut's activity. It may be used if necessary, and if your symptoms are mild.
- may help traveller's diarrhoea and may shorten an attack by about one day.
If you are travelling to an at-risk area then we may be able to prescribe you the antibiotic Azithromycin to take with you, just in case you develop significant symptoms of traveller's diarrhoea.
However, the antibiotic should not replace you seeking medical advice where necessary. If your symptoms are worsening, not improving, or if you feel very unwell then you are advised to seek urgent medical attention.
The antibiotic Azithromycin can be prescribed as 'standby treatment' to take with you, just in case you develop significant symptoms of traveller's diarrhoea. It can be considered for patients at high risk of severe illness or if visiting high-risk areas.
Azithromycin for traveller's diarrhoea is an off-label or unlicensed medicine. However, it is the recommended antibiotic choice by NICE guidelines for use as a standby antibiotic for traveller's diarrhoea.
Off-label use means that the medicine isn't licensed for treatment of your condition. But the medicine will have a licence to treat another condition and will have undergone clinical trials for this.
Azithromycin should be started if your bowel movements become:
- very frequent
- very watery
- contain blood
- last beyond three days
However, the antibiotic should not replace seeking medical advice where necessary. If your symptoms are worsening, not improving, or you feel very unwell then you are advised to seek urgent medical attention.
Before you start the treatment, please read the manufacturers leaflet contained with the medication. This contains more information and lists all the potential side effects.
How to Take the Medication
The tablets should be taken together and can be taken either before or after food with 1⁄2 a glass of water.
Azithromycin is not thought to affect the ability to drive or operate machinery.
Do not take indigestion remedies during the two hours before or during the two hours after you take a dose of azithromycin, as it can affect the absorption of the antibiotic.
Never give your medication to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.
Side-effects are usually mild and the most common are diarrhoea, feeling sick and a headache.
Serious side effects of Azithromycin are uncommon, but if you will need to contact a doctor straight away if you notice any of the following:
- diarrhoea that lasts a long time or has blood in it, with stomach pain or fever. This may be caused by serious bowel inflammation but only rarely happens after taking antibiotics.
- jaundice: Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes caused by liver problems
- severe abdominal pain in the neck or back caused by inflammation of the pancreas
- not passing enough urine or blood in the urine
- skin rash caused by sensitivity to sunlight
- unusual bruising or bleeding
- an irregular heartbeat.
An itchy rash, swollen face or mouth, or difficulty in breathing, may be signs that you are allergic to the medication.
Please note that i-GP DOES NOT TREAT Medical Emergencies.
If you develop a sudden onset of any of the symptoms below then you must STOP the medication immediately and seek urgent medical advice. This could be from your GP, Out of Hours Service, Urgent Care Centre or NHS 111. Call an ambulance or go to A&E if the symptoms are severe.
- Difficulty in Breathing
- Swelling of the eyelids, face or lips
- A rash particularly if affecting your entire body
Advice for travellers can be found on the following websites:
Antibiotics should be used responsibly and only when really necessary. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is where the antibiotic becomes less effective at treating certain types of bacterial infection, so they do not work when needed.
Antibiotics should be taken as prescribed, and it is important to complete the full course, this can reduce the chance of the bacteria developing an immunity to that antibiotic. It is important not to share antibiotics, and always take unused medication to your local pharmacy for disposal.
NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries: Diarrhoea - prevention and advice for travellers.
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