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Travelers need to know more about diarrhea

Most people heading off to a sunny winter vacation in a foreign country know something about how to avoid a nasty case of travellers' diarrhea, but they don't know everything they should, according to a University of Alberta study.

A survey of 104 vacationers boarding flights for Mexico revealed that their general level of knowledge about the prevention of this condition was generally adequate; however, there were still some things they needed to know more about.

Of the travellers, surveyed as they boarded flights from the Calgary International Airport in March and April of 2005, more than 80 per cent knew that foods such as salad, partially cooked beef or chicken and ice cubes posed high risks for the illness. But only 47 per cent knew that chlorinated water is not always safe to drink, due to the resistance to chlorination among microorganisms such as Cryptosporidium. And while 96 per cent of the respondents knew that travellers' diarrhea could be contracted from bacteria, only 43 per cent knew that viruses could also be a cause. As well, only 55.8 per cent realized that hand-washing was an effective way to help ward off the sickness and 25 per cent of those surveyed wrongly identified fungi as sources of the diarrhea.

"The study showed that while these respondents are aware of the condition, they may not be aware of some important factors in avoiding and treating travellers' diarrhea," said Julie Johnson, lead author of the study and a PhD student in the Departments of Public Health Sciences and Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada.

The study findings appear in the most recent issue of Journal of Travel Medicine.

Overall, information on travel-related disease had been sought by almost half of the study participants before they headed out on their trips, although less than one-fourth consulted with a doctor, pharmacist or nurse. One-third got information from the Internet, travel agents, family and friends. The study also showed that those people with any information at all scored higher on the survey than did those with no information on the illness.

Johnson suggests it would be helpful if there were more information available specifically on travellers' diarrhea, and if the travel industry would more clearly demonstrate that this information is important to the safety and satisfaction of their clientele.

"For example, tour companies with Web-based ticket sale systems could provide online brochures to customers at point-of-purchase, or links to further health information. Health regions provide excellent information to those who seek it out, but many travellers may not be aware that is available," Johnson noted.

Bev Betkowski | EurekAlert!
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