Temple Health expert tips for avoiding stomach issues while traveling

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Monday, November 27, 2023
Temple Health expert tips for avoiding stomach issues while traveling
Checking the CDC's Yellow Book and packing Pepto Bismol tablets are just a few of the expert tips for avoiding stomach troubles on your winter trips.

Winter travel season is right around the corner.

Unfortunately, up to 70% of travelers experience some kind of digestive trouble.

A local expert has valuable tips to prevent your winter getaway from going awry.

Katie Morgan and her friends were having a ball on her bachelorette trip to Mexico.

But during their last hours there, all eight got sick in the stomach.

"Our flight out was that morning. So we were sick on the way home," Morgan says of the very uncomfortable trip.

Gastroenterologist Dr. Mark Malamood of Temple Health says the most common G-I issue for travelers is constipation, a sluggish digestive tract due to drinking too little water and irregular eating schedules.

However, the CDC says anywhere from 30-70% suffer traveler's diarrhea.

Dr. Malamood says the highest-risk destinations are Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

"Some more intermediate risk places would be the Caribbean, Latin America, Eastern Europe and South America," says the doctor.

Bacteria are the prime cause, but viruses like norovirus, the one that's caused outbreaks on cruise ships, are also a risk.

Foods like salads or produce washed in poorly purified water are a common source.

But Dr. Malamood says travelers overlook another.

"They know to avoid tap water. They don't - they have bottles of water to drink, to brush their teeth, but they forget about ice," he notes.

That's exactly how Morgan's group suspects they got sick.

"We were on one of those little boats with, you know, food & drinks," says Katie.

"We made a big mistake and just had drinks with ice in them," she says.

Dr. Malamood says the CDC's Yellow Book web page is a good source for preventing or treating G-I illnesses.

One proactive tip is to take Pepto Bismol tablets along.

"Four times a day, you'll take one with once each meal and once before bed," the doctor says.

Studies show it's 40-60 percent effective at preventing traveler's diarrhea.

"It's also a good thing to have on hand if you do develop, minor symptoms," Dr. Malamood notes.

He says having antibiotics alone is a good idea in high-risk areas, and he says most doctors know which drugs work best for various locations.

Morgan also had a high fever on returning from Mexico, so she sought out medical care.

The doctor says G-I ailments generally last 1-3 days and most people can tolerate them.

But anyone who experiences frequent, watery diarrhea, especially paired with nausea or vomiting may need a doctor's help, at least in getting re-hydrated.

Dr. Malamood urges every traveler to stay cognizant of drinking enough water, especially if they're flying or drinking alcohol, which is a diuretic.

He also says to bring food that you can have in the airport or on an airplane or a long bus ride rather than having some of the more processed stuff that's going to be available to you on a plane or in an airport.