With travellers' diarrhoea affecting at least some 10 million people each year and the tourist season approaching its peak, the United Nations health agency today issued a paper outlining ways to avoid the scourge, including boiling water, disinfecting with chemicals such as chlorine and iodine and drinking bottled water from known sources.
Waterborne disease is common in all parts of the world where there is poor hygiene and sanitation, and traveller's diarrhoea – whose principal causes are contaminated food and water – is estimated to affect 20 to 50 per cent of travellers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in the new document – Preventing Travellers' Diarrhoea: How To Make Drinking Water Safe.
It urges that before travelling, people check with their local disease prevention agency or physician for recommended vaccines and medication, seek more detailed advice from WHO's International Travel and Health site at http://www.who.int/ith/en/, and take along a medical kit containing water disinfectant agents such as iodine tablets or solution, chlorinating-flocculating products, and/or chlorine bleach tablets.
Bringing water to a rolling boil is the most effective way to kill all disease-causing pathogens, the document says. If it is not possible to boil water, chemical disinfection of clear, non-turbid water is effective for killing bacteria and viruses and some protozoa.
As for treatment, WHO recommends that as soon as diarrhoea starts, travellers drink more fluids such as boiled, bottled or treated water, sports beverages or any other safe fluids like carbonated drinks. Oral rehydration salts may also be used to help the body retain fluids.
While drinking water of questionable purity is always risky, if a traveller becomes sick with severe diarrhoea and/or vomiting and a safe source of fluids can not be obtained, it is better to drink the best available fluids, even if of questionable purity, than to drink nothing at all.