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Traveller's diarrhoea

Traveller's diarrhoea is a condition characterised by loose stools, and can often be caused by a bacterial infection.

  • Can be the result of many different organisms
  • May lead to 3 or more watery movements per day
  • Some cases may require medicinal treatment

Where traveller’s diarrhoea caused by bacteria is known to be present, it may be appropriate in some cases to take antibiotics to either prevent or tackle the infection. 

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Travellers’ diarrhoea is a condition which causes someone to pass frequent, loose stools. In many cases, it is caused by a bacterial infection, and is so called as it is mostly experienced by people travelling to remote areas where the ingestion of harmful bacteria through contaminated food or water is much more likely. For instance, bacteria may be transferred to food through handling, but contamination might also occur through washing with affected water.

It can on occasion be caused by viral or fungal infections too.

  • Can be the result of many different organisms
  • May lead to 3 or more watery movements per day
  • Some cases may require medicinal treatment

There are several approaches someone can take to limit or prevent their risk of traveller’s diarrhoea. These include taking water purification tablets to clean water prior to consumption; washing your hands regularly and carrying cleansing hand gel for those instances where no washing facilities are available; trying as much as possible to eat cooked foods and avoiding freshly washed raw items, such as fruit and salad; and of course consulting government travel advice on the area you are visiting.

Travellers’ diarrhoea can vary in terms of severity. Someone may find that they need to go to the toilet urgently, and may have watery movements between three and ten times per day, or in some cases even more. Because the severity and symptoms can differ so much from one case to another, the way it is treated varies too.

Often, a mild or moderate case of traveller’s diarrhoea will go away on its own without the need for specific medicinal treatment. Resting, and staying hydrated with water and oral rehydration salt solutions can help to reduce the severity symptoms.

In cases where someone is vomiting, passing blood or mucus in the stool, experiencing severe pain, or are experiencing a number of daily movements approaching five or more, then immediate medical attention should be sought. Serious cases may need to be treated in hospital and closely monitored.

In those cases where a bacterial infection is known to be the cause of travellers’ diarrhoea, then a doctor may suggest the use of an antibiotic treatment. A swab test is usually used to determine whether an infection is present.

Where someone is travelling to a specific region in which there is a particularly high risk of bacteria-induced traveller’s diarrhoea, is susceptible to or has a known history of the condition, or has a condition which makes them more likely to experience symptoms in response to an infection, then a doctor may advise taking antibiotics with them in case an infection occurs.

Xifaxanta is one antibiotic used to treat travellers’ diarrhoea. Xifaxanta contains a drug called rifaximin and is marketed by Norgine. Rifaximin works in the gut, and tackles the bacteria responsible for infection by preventing it from producing enzymes which are essential to its growth and sustenance. This renders the bacteria stagnant and it subsequently perishes. Ciprofloxacin is another type of antibiotic drug used in traveller’s diarrhoea, and works in a similar way.

Please note that in cases of traveller's diarrhoea caused by a viral or fungal infection, antibiotic treatment should not be taken as it will not be effective. In such cases, a doctor may advise a different course of treatment.

Please be aware that it is not possible to purchase medication for travellers’ diarrhoea from our site. Contact your doctor, if you wish to discuss treatment options.

Page last reviewed:  13/06/2018
Types of Treatment

How diarrhoea is treated depends entirely on the cause and severity of the case.

Travellers’ diarrhoea is typically caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection.

In the majority of cases, an episode of travellers’ diarrhoea will pass on its own without the need for medicine; getting plenty of rest and drinking clean fluids will often suffice.

Antidiarrhoeal treatments can help to replace lost fluids and reduce movements in mild to moderate cases.

However where blood and mucus is present in stools, and someone is experiencing severe pain, it is crucial to seek urgent medical attention.

Antibiotics are only to be used in those cases of travellers’ diarrhoea where a bacterial infection is known to be responsible. Diagnosis for traveller's diarrhoea is commonly confirmed via a swab test.

In some specific cases, antibiotics may be suggested as a prophylactic, to prevent travellers’ diarrhoea in cases where someone is:

  • Travelling to a region where the condition is highly prevalent
  • Has a history of or predisposition to travellers diarrhoea
  • At increased of infection due to a pre-existing medical condition

The treatment we provide for traveller’s diarrhoea caused by bacteria is the antibiotic Xifaxanta, which contains rifaximin.

How does it work?

Xifaxanta functions exclusively in the gut. Rifaximin, the active substance, works by inhibiting the bacteria’s capacity to produce self-sustaining proteins, which are crucial to its growth. This causes the bacteria responsible for the infection to perish.

Antibiotics are not suitable in the treatment of traveller's diarrhoea caused by a fungal or viral infection.

What are the side effects?

Dizziness and headache are among the most common side effects reported with the use of this treatment. Refer to our product page for more.

Can I take them with other medications?

Some treatments may be incompatible with this antibiotic. Make sure you let your prescriber know about any other medicines you are taking during consultation.

Page last reviewed:  13/06/2018
Questions and Answers

How traveller’s diarrhoea is treated once active depends on the cause of it, and the severity. In many cases, the infection may pass without medicinal intervention.

Should I take XifaXanta?

Only if you have been advised by a doctor that your particular case of diarrhoea has been caused by a bacterial infection which can be treated by this antibiotic; or if you have been advised that this particular treatment is one which will be effective against such an infection in the area you are travelling to.

It is important to follow medical advice which relates directly to the area(s) you are travelling to. You can find this on the NHS Fit For Travel website, or by talking to your GP or travel guide.

Are there side effects?

There are side effects associated with the use of Xifaxanta. Some of those more common include headache and dizziness. Consult the patient information leaflet provided on the item page for more information.

Is it right for me?

It’s important prior to travel to look at the guidance provided by your national health body on what precautions to take. It is also important to ask your doctor for advice if you are travelling with a medical condition. Your travel provider may also be able to help.

Page last reviewed:  13/06/2018

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This content was reviewed by a clinician on

13 June 2018
dr daniel

Dr Daniel Atkinson

(GP Clinical Lead - GMC No. 4624794) 13 June 2018
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