Traveler's diarrhea: a clinical review

JAMA. 2015 Jan 6;313(1):71-80. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.17006.


Importance: Acute diarrhea is the most common illness that affects travelers to low-income regions of the world. Although improved hygiene has reduced the risk of traveler's diarrhea in many destinations, the risk remains high in others.

Objective: To review the current state of knowledge on the etiology, risk factors, prevention, and management of traveler's diarrhea.

Evidence review: A search of the PubMed, Google Scholar, and Cochrane Library databases for the period 2012-April 2014 was performed for articles on traveler's diarrhea. The database search yielded 2976 articles, of which 37 were included in this review. These were added to 85 articles previously identified by the authors.

Findings: Improved hygiene has reduced the risk of traveler's diarrhea from 20% or more (for a 2-week stay) to between 8% and 20% in some parts of the world. Acquiring traveler's diarrhea causes 12% to 46% of travelers to change their travel plans. Returning travelers seeking medical care have a diagnosis of gastrointestinal disturbance in approximately one-third of all cases. Postinfectious irritable bowel syndrome may occur in 3% to 17% of patients who have had traveler's diarrhea. Prevention of traveler's diarrhea by dietary avoidance measures is often not successful. Chemoprophylaxis should be restricted to travelers who are at risk of severe complications of diarrhea. Ciprofloxacin is the standard treatment in self-therapy of traveler's diarrhea except when patients are in South or Southeast Asia, where azithromycin is preferred.

Conclusions and relevance: Diarrhea remains a common problem for international travelers. Persons intending to travel to at-risk countries should be counseled regarding prevention measures and may be given a travel pack that includes medications for self-treatment should they become ill.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Azithromycin / therapeutic use
  • Ciprofloxacin / therapeutic use
  • Diarrhea* / complications
  • Diarrhea* / drug therapy
  • Diarrhea* / etiology
  • Diarrhea* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / etiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Travel*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Azithromycin