Healthy living

Gastroenteritis overseas

Gastroenteritis, commonly called ‘gastro’, is an infection of the digestive system. Around 20 to 50 per cent of travellers will suffer from diarrhoeal infections such as:

These infections are caused by poor personal hygiene (cleanliness) or by eating food and drinking fluids contaminated with bacteria, viruses or worms.

Reduce your risk of getting gastro

The following precautions against gastrointestinal infections are especially important in areas of poor hygiene:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food.
  • Avoid eating or drinking salads, raw or cold seafood including shellfish, raw or runny eggs, cold meat, unpasteurised milk, dairy products, ice in drinks, ice-cream, and flavoured ice blocks. Fruit that you peel yourself is usually safe. Remember – ‘cook it, boil it, peel it, or leave it’.
  • To ensure water is safe to drink it must be kept at boiling point for at least 1 minute (or for at least 3 minutes at altitudes over 2,000 metres) before drinking. If this is not possible, then iodine tablets or water purifiers should be used – follow the instructions carefully.
  • Drinks that are usually safe from contamination include tea and coffee made with freshly boiled water, commercially canned or bottled water or carbonated drinks, beer and wine. Ensure that seals on bottles are unbroken and avoid ice in your drinks. Drink directly from the can or bottle rather than use a potentially contaminated glass or other drink container.

If you get sick

  • In the event of diarrhoea, fluid replacement is the first priority.
  • Dehydrations from loss of fluids can be dangerous at any age, but particularly so in babies and young children who can dehydrate very quickly. Remember to increase fluid intake during episodes of diarrhoea. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) replace salt and sugar from the body. It is important to follow the instructions on the packet and mix the solution correctly.
  • Breastfeeding mothers should continue to breastfeed as normal but should supplement breast milk with ORS using a cup and spoon.
  • Do not give anti-diarrhoeal medications to children.
  • See a doctor if diarrhoea and/or vomiting are severe or persistent.
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