Case: George is a 5 year-old boy presenting to an Emergency Department (ED) complaining of abdominal pain and loose stools following a recent tropical vacation. How should we proceed? Is there any way that we could have prevented this?

What is traveler’s diarrhea?

    1. Classic Definition: ≥ 3 unformed stools in 24 hour period with nausea, vomiting, cramps, fever, blood in stool (Stauffer et al, 1990)
      • For infants and young children, some authors define diarrhea as ≥ 2-fold increase in unformed stool (Ashkenazi et al, 2016)
    2. Moderate diarrhea: 1-2 loose stools per 24 hour period
    3. Mild diarrhea: 1 loose stool per 24 hour period
    4. Duration (CDC, 2016)
      • Viral : 2-3 days
      • Bacterial: 3-7 days
      • Protozoal: weeks to months

Etiology (Ashkenazi et al., 2016)


Electron Microscope Image of E. Coli (Pixabay Image)

    1. Bacterial: E. Coli (ETEC, EHEC, EAEC, etc), Campylobacter jejuni, Salmonella spp., Shigella spp.,  are the most commonly seen, though Aeromonas spp. increasingly noted (CDC, 2016).
      • Of note, E. Coli (O157:H7) [associated with hemolytic uremic syndrome] has not been described in traveling children (Mackell, 2005)
    2. Viral: rotavirus, norovirus, adenovirus
    3. Parasite: Giardia (most common), Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, entamoeba (uncommon)
    4. Etiologic agent generally identified in less than ⅓ of cases



    1. General incidence: 10-40% of travelers (Pitzinger B et al, 1991), though can affect up to 70% of travelers depending on the location they were traveling in (CDC Yellow Book)
      • Highest risk in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America (Hagmann et al, 2010)
    2. Young children at the highest risk and manifest most severely (Ashkenazi et al, 2016)
    3. Children visiting family and/or friends are at higher risk as compared to tourists


    1. Microbiologic identification is generally unnecessary
    2. If fever and colitis  think Campylobacter, Shigella, EHEC
    3. Predominance of upper GI symptoms  Giardia, isospora, cyclospora
    4. If recent antimicrobials  -> C. diff
    5. If ill, send cultures for salmonella

Role for Prevention? (Connor, 2015)

  1. Choosing food and beverages wisely while traveling has been the cornerstone of advice
    • Unfortunately, studies do not show benefit to this practice (Steffen et al, 2004)
  2. Hand hygiene very important
  3. For children older than 12 years old, bismuth subsalicylate has been shown to reduce incidence of traveler’s diarrhea by 50%
    • Inconvenient dosing: 2 tabs, four times daily
  4. Prophylactic antibiotics are not generally recommended
    • May be considered in “high-risk hosts” (e.g. immunosuppressed)

His dad asks: how should he treat this?


    1. Maintaining hydration is the most important treatment
      • Use urine output as a guide (if normal urine output, diarrheal illness is mild)
    2. If evidence of dehydration: Preferentially use oral rehydration solution (Desforges, 1990)
      • WHO solution made with: Glucose (20g/L), 3 salts (3.5g/L) [sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium bicarbonate]
      • Rationale for use is intestinal co-transport of glucose and sodium
    3. Role of antibiotics
      • Warranted in severe diarrhea (>4 stools in 24 hr period, fever, blood/pus in stool)
        1. Azithromycin is treatment of choice (Ashkenazi et al., 2016)
        2. Rifaxamin for children ≥ 12 years old
        3. Fluoroquinolones (Note: not FDA approved for children)


      1. Diarrheal illness in children returning from travel is not uncommon
      2. Younger children at higher risk of significant morbidity
      3. Maintaining hydration is essential; utilize oral route
      4. Antibiotics not well studied, beneficial in severe cases
      5. For all traveler’s, utilize CDC’s Website to provide resources and guidance

Online Resources

  • CDC:

Faculty Reviewer: Michael Koster, MD


Ashkenazi S et al. “Travelers’ Diarrhea in Children: What have we learnt?” The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. 2016;35(6)698-700.

Connor BA. “Traveler’s Diarrhea.” CDC Health Information for International Travelers 2016. Ed. G. Brunette. Oxford University Press, 2015.  Print and Online

Desforges JF. “Oral therapy for Acute Diarrhea- The Underutilized Simple Solution.” NEJM. 1990; 323:891- 894.

Hagmann S et al. “Illness in Children After International Travel: Analysis From the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network.” Pediatrics. 2010. 125(5)e1072-e1080

Mackell S. “Traveler’s Diarrhea in the Pediatric Population: Etiology and Impact.” Clin Infect Dis. 2005;41(Suppl 8)S547-S552.

Pitzinger B et al. “Incidence and clinical features of traveler’s diarrhea in infants and children.” The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. 1991;10(10)

Stauffer WM et al. “Traveling with Infants and Small Children. Part III: Traveler’s Diarrhea.” Journal of Travel Medicine. 2002;9(3):141-50

Steffen R et al. “Epidemiology of Travelers’ Diarrhea: Details of a Global Survey.” J Travel Med. 2004;11(4)231-238.