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Inconvenience due to travelers' diarrhea: a prospective follow-up study

Darius Soonawala*, Jessica A Vlot and Leo G Visser

Author Affiliations

Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:322  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-322

Published: 20 November 2011



Limited data exist documenting the degree to which travelers are inconvenienced by travelers' diarrhea (TD). We performed a prospective follow-up study at the travel clinic of Leiden University Medical Center in The Netherlands to determine the degree of inconvenience and to determine how experiencing TD affects travelers' perception.


Healthy adults who intended to travel to the (sub)tropics for less than two months were invited to take part. Participants filled out a web-based questionnaire before departure and after returning home. TD was defined as three or more unformed stools during a 24-hour period.


390 of 776 Eligible travelers completed both questionnaires. Participants' median age was 31 years and mean travel duration 23 days. Of 160 travelers who contracted TD (incidence proportion 41%, median duration of TD episode 2.5 days) the majority (107/160, 67%) could conduct their activity program as planned despite having diarrhea. However, 21% (33/160) were forced to alter their program and an additional 13% (20/160) were confined to their accommodation for one or more daylight days; 53 travelers (33%) used loperamide and 14 (9%) an antibiotic. Eight travelers (5%) consulted a physician for the diarrheal illness. When asked about the degree of inconvenience brought on by the diarrheal illness, 39% categorized it as minor or none at all, 34% as moderate and 27% as large or severe. In those who regarded the episode of TD a major inconvenience, severity of symptoms was greater and use of treatment and necessity to alter the activity program were more common. Travelers who contracted travelers' diarrhea considered it less of a problem in retrospect than they had thought it would be before departure.


Conventional definitions of TD encompass many mild cases of TD (in our study at least a third of all cases) for which treatment is unlikely to provide a significant health benefit. By measuring the degree of inconvenience brought on by TD, researchers and policy makers may be able to better distinguish 'significant TD' from mild TD, thus allowing for a more precise estimation of the size of the target population for vaccination or stand-by antibiotic prescription and of the benefit of such measures.