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Coping with Traveler’s Diarrhea

Coping with Traveler’s Diarrhea

In 1984 Parker Bros. launched an Atari game that offered a new set of thrills: It was a treasure-hunting, puzzle-solving adventure called Montezuma's Revenge. In it, Panama Joe (looking a bit like a pixelated Indiana Jones) took you through twists and turns on your way to a pot of gold or other treasures.

Unfortunately, traveler’s diarrhea (formerly called Montezuma’s revenge) isn’t that much fun -- and will lead you to a different pot! Researchers estimate more than 50 million people travel each year from developed countries to developing countries and 20-50% get walloped by diarrhea during their first two weeks in the new territory. Most of the time it’s a bacterial infection, although viruses and parasites can also cause the symptoms ranging from a sudden and repeating attack of the runs to cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever.

The risk is greatest for folks staying in local accommodations, eating local foods and, interestingly, taking heartburn meds (they mute the bug-killing powers of stomach acid). Fortunately, for most, symptoms usually go away in a few days once you get plenty of fluids and rest. However, if you have dehydration, persistent vomiting, bloody stools or a high fever see a doc. You might get a prescription for loperamide, an opioid antimotility drug …but it’s not for kids or anyone with bloody stools or fever. That calls for the antibiotic ciprofloxacin. And to be prepared, you might want to learn how to say “I have diarrhea” in any local language before you arrive at your exotic destination.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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