Traveller’s diarrhea (TD) is a common enough health problem that can easily spoil your vacations. Did you know that a vaccine is now available to prevent this problem? Find out if vaccination against TD is right for you!
What is traveller’s diarrhea?
Traveller’s diarrhea is the most common health problem among travellers. It can occur in as many as 50% of travellers depending on the region they visit. Several bacteria are responsible for causing TD. They are usually contracted through contaminated water or food or through contact with an infected person. Your pharmacist can tell you what to do to avoid getting TD.
If you get TD during your vacations, you’ll probably have the following symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensation of queasiness
- Signs of dehydratation
Symptoms usually go away after a few days.
A vaccine to prevent TD
In addition to the usual prevention measures, there is now an oral vaccine that reduces the risk of contracting TD. This vaccine helps prevent both TD and cholera. It targets the bacterium that is responsible for the majority of TD cases, that is, enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC). The vaccine’s effectiveness against the bacterial agent is about 50%, which means that it prevents about one out of two cases of ETEC-related TD. However, since this is not the only bacterium that causes TD, the vaccine’s overall efficacy against TD is closer to 20% according to certain studies.
Who should get vaccinated?
Considering the vaccine’s rather limited effectiveness against traveller’s diarrhea, it isn’t necessary for everyone travelling to at-risk regions to get vaccinated. It may be considered for people aged two years and older who meet the following criteria:
- They have a chronic disease (kidney failure, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.) and contracting TD would potentially cause serious consequences
- They have an increased risk of contracting TD, such as young children
- They have a weak immune system
- They have already had several severe bouts of TD
- They cannot afford to contract TD (business people, political attachés, etc.)
If you’re in doubt as to whether you should be vaccinated, speak with your pharmacist, who can help you to make an informed decision. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and people with a health problem or allergy should inform their pharmacist of their condition before using the vaccine.
Using the vaccine
If you decide to get vaccinated, you have to plan ahead. You’ll need to take two doses at an interval of at least one week. In addition, the second dose must be taken at least one week prior to departure for optimal effect. Therefore, the vaccination program should begin two or more weeks prior to departure.
The preventive effect against TD lasts three months according to studies. Once this period has elapsed, another dose is required for future travel.
The vaccine against TD is taken orally – to be specific, it’s a liquid that you have to drink. The healthcare professional who supplies the vaccine can tell you how to use it properly. You must follow use instructions. Side effects are rare but may include:
- Abdominal pain
Caution: your best ally
Even if you’ve been vaccinated, you won’t be fully protected against traveller’s diarrhea when you’re abroad. You must follow the usual precautions concerning water and food. To ensure you have enjoyable vacations, remember the old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!