Prevention of travelers' diarrhea by the tablet formulation of bismuth subsalicylate

JAMA. 1987 Mar 13;257(10):1347-50.


Within 48 hours of arrival in Mexico, 182 US students participated in a study to compare the efficacy of two dosages of bismuth subsalicylate (262 mg per tablet) as a prophylactic agent against diarrhea. The students were randomly assigned to receive two tablets (high dose) or one tablet (low dose) of bismuth subsalicylate four times daily or a placebo four times daily during a three-week period. Among these completing the trial, diarrhea (four or more unformed stools in 24 hours or three in eight hours, plus one other symptom) occurred in seven (14%) of 51 receiving the high-dose regimen compared with 15 (24%) of 63 receiving the low-dose regimen and 23 (40%) of 58 in the placebo group. Protection rates were 65% for high-dose and 40% for low-dose bismuth subsalicylate. Diarrhea caused by enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli was found in one student receiving the high-dose regimen, in no students receiving the low-dose regimen, and in seven placebo-treated subjects. Bismuth subsalicylate was well tolerated; the most common side effects were blackening of tongues and stools. Bismuth subsalicylate use in both dosages was associated with tinnitus at a low, clinically insignificant frequency of 1.2 days per 100 days of treatment. The dosage of two tablets of bismuth subsalicylate four times daily (2.1 g/d) appears to be a safe and effective means of reducing the occurrence of travelers' diarrhea among persons at risk for periods up to three weeks.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bismuth*
  • Diarrhea / microbiology
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Mexico
  • Organometallic Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Organometallic Compounds / adverse effects
  • Organometallic Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Probability
  • Random Allocation
  • Salicylates / administration & dosage
  • Salicylates / adverse effects
  • Salicylates / therapeutic use*
  • Tablets
  • Travel*


  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Salicylates
  • Tablets
  • bismuth subsalicylate
  • Bismuth