Catching a tummy bug whilst on holiday is both miserable and inconvenient. My worst experience of this was on my first visit to Asia over 20 years ago where I innocently bought a sandwich at Chang Mai airport and then proceeded to be so ill that I never ventured out of our hotel room in Cambodia missing all the beautiful temples that we had come to see! It’s estimated that traveller’s diarrhoea can affect as many as 2 to 6 in every 10 travellers so we are sure many of you have had a similar experience. It is usually caused by eating food, or drinking water, contaminated by bugs such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. It can also be spread from person to person. Aside from diarrhoea common symptoms are stomach cramps ,vomiting and fever . In most cases these clear within 3 to 4 days ( if your symptoms are very severe and last longer than a few days while you are away please seek medical help) however there are a few things that you can do in the run up to your trip, and whilst you’re away to prevent the dreaded holiday belly ruining your trip.
Before you go Away
Probiotics: If you don’t already you can consider taking a probiotic supplement starting a few days before you travel and stopping on your return. Try to find a brand that doesn’t need refrigeration and contains the following strains of bacteria: Saccharomyces boulardii and a mixture of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum, as research shows that they appear to be effective in preventing traveller’s diarrhoea. If you don’t want to take a supplement you can stock up on probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi sourdough bread, kombucha and yoghurts which contain active, live cultures as well as prebiotic foods that feed our gut bacteria ( onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus).
First Aid Pack
Better safe than sorry so make sure you pack some anti-diarrhoeal tablets such as Imodium and rehydration salts such as Dioralyte in your wash bag or first aid kit.
While you're away
While we very much hope that you don’t get sick and enjoy your holiday there are definitely a few things that you can do to make sure you reduce the risk of picking something up.
Wash your hands: Sounds really obvious but it is the simplest, most effective way of preventing the spread of bugs to you or to other people. You can also take a little bottle of hand sanitiser with you to keep in your handbag in case you aren’t near water or worried about how clean it may be.
Bottled water or cooled, boiled water:Depending on where you are travelling to there will be places where it should go without saying that you should avoid the local tap water – including ice in your drinks and for rinsing your mouth after brushing teeth . Even if locals drink it without any problems, your stomach may not have the right bacteria to protect you from becoming ill. If you run out of water you can also boil the water in the kettle and drink cooled – this is the most reliable method of removing bugs, but will not remove dirt.
Avoid raw or undercooked food: As a rule of thumb freshly prepared, well-cooked food, served hot, is generally the safest bet. Also you can consider swapping your salads for cooked vegetables instead.Buffets can be deceptive as the food may have been lying around for a couple of hours so do try to pick dishes that look freshest or are cooked on the spot. Many people like to try local food with street vendors and argue that they are fresh as have a higher turnover but we would be wary of street vendor food due to contamination and quality of food.
What to do if you get ill
AIf you are suffering with diarrhoea make sure that you drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. As a rough guide, drink at least an extra 200 mls of fluid after each bout of diarrhoea. Rehydration salts such as Dioralyte are also really useful and are easy to pack. They won’t stop or reduce diarrhoea but the small amount of sugar and salt in them helps water to be absorbed better from the gut into the body. Children can become severely dehydrated in a short time so be particularly vigilant of their hydration levels. If you are struggling to keep water down at all and suspect that you are becoming dehydrated, you should seek medical advice.
You can also take an antidiarrheal medicine such as Imodium.
Once back home the best thing to help recover is to support the good gut bacteria through diet – lots of fibre and probiotic rich foods (mentioned before) as well as taking a good multi-strain probiotic supplement for a couple of weeks. If you’re still having digestive symptoms and significant discomfort after a more than a few days at home we urge you to please speak to your GP.